DGAC defends the scientific basis of its recommendation, fights back against limiting legislation

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

DGAC defends its recommendation, fights back against legislation

Related tags Dietary guidelines Nutrition

Members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee uncharacteristically fight back against criticism of its recommendations and ask Congress to drop proposed legislation that would effectively block regulators from acting on many of the committee’s controversial suggestions. 

In a letter sent June 22 to Congressional appropriations committee members, DGAC asks that dietary guideline-related riders on the Agriculture and Labor/Health and Human Serivces appropriations bill be removed or else run the risk of causing “deleterious effects,”​ including undermining the entire dietary guideline review process, which took 20 months and included regular, public meetings and open commentary to ensure transparency.

If passed, the riders would prohibit the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments from revising or adding new dietary guidelines based on the recommendations unless they were based on Grade I Strong scientific evidence as defined by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture. The legislation also would limit any changes to the dietary guidelines to “only matters of diet and nutrition intake,”​ according to the bill​. 

The proposed legislation likely was added to the appropriations bill in response to industry complaints that the recommendations overstepped the committee’s mandate.

The American Beverage Association complained​ when the recommendations were released that the committee “went beyond its charge … by advocating for public policies such as taxes and restrictions on foods and beverages.”​ 

Likewise, the North American Meat Institute accused the committee of entering “murky waters … well beyond its scope and expertise”​ when it suggested plant-based, low-meat diets were more environmentally sustainable than the current U.S. diet. 

The committee defended the scientific basis of its recommendations in the letter to legislators, noting that it posed more than 100 questions, which it researched, as appropriate, by systematically reviewing peer-reviewed literature, current reports from federal agencies and professional health organizations.

“Formal grades were assigned to our conclusions and recommendations using strict criteria primarily where peer-reviewed, published research formed the primary body of evidence,”​ but it did not grade conclusions based on its own research as consistent with expert practice, the committee said.

Retroactively requiring viable recommendations to be based only on Strong Grade I evidence, as proposed by the bill, is “arbitrary,”​ and would limit policy development, the committee said. It added: “This threshold is completely inconsistent with correct and historic scientific practice used for evidence-based expert guideline development.”

Likewise, restricting policy developments to topics of diet and nutrient intake is “unduly narrow,” ​and would cause “large areas within the scope of the DGAC’s charge and its important scientific findigns and recommendations [to] be ignored,”​ the committee wrote.

For example, such a restriction would eliminate from consideration issues related to food insecurity, which are directly related to poverty-driven health disparities, the letter notes. The evidence review on physical activities also would be removed if the riders are accepted.

The committee argues that considering the full basis for the recommendations is necessary to comprehensively address the impact of preventable chronic disease at the individual and population levels.

It concludes: “The U.S. health and public health systems are burdened with preventable health problems and employers and consumers are strained under rising healthcare costs, many of which are associated with the treatment of preventable health problems. Given the scope and urgency of these problems, it is important to consider the translation fo the 2015 DGAC’s entire report to the extent possible into the most comprehensive diet and health advice and an array of evidence-based programs and services.”

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