Transcript of Testimony Given to USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee by the Nutrition Coalition Executive Director, Nina Teicholz (July 11, 2019)
My name is Nina Teicholz. I am a science journalist and author of the book, The Big Fat Surprise, the culmination of a nearly 10 year full-time investigation into the scientific basis for US nutrition policy. The failures of science and policy-making that I discovered through that investigation compelled me to create The Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit group dedicated to the public interest. It receives no industry support and is committed to ensuring that America’s Dietary Guidelines are based on solid, rigorous evidence; in other words, that they are evidence-based and trustworthy.
I have two main points today.
First: The Dietary Guidelines issued by USDA and HHS are not based on the most rigorous evidence since this evidence has, since the launch of the Guidelines, been ignored and/or excluded.
This fact is validated by an article I wrote in The BMJ, which was peer reviewed more than once. It established that the Dietary Guidelines for the past 35 years have ignored clinical trial evidence, largely funded by our government, on more than 75,000 people, tested in experiments lasting up to 12 years. This data, from clinical trials, is considered the gold standard, because it can uniquely demonstrate causality. Unfortunately, instead of informing our nation’s nutrition policy; this gold-standard evidence has been ignored.
Why? One can only speculate yet the fact is that none of these trials could confirm the basic tenets of the Dietary Guidelines. Indeed, multiple trials did not confirm that a diet restricted in fat OR saturated fat could protect against diet-related diseases. More recently, trials have shown that the Guidelines’ high level of carbohydrates actually is harmful for people with diet-related diseases. These bodies of evidence all implied that the Guidelines needed to walk back some of its basic advice. Yet the Guidelines experts ignored the evidence, and carried on without change. During this time, rates of diet-related diseases have risen to epidemic proportions, now afflicting at least 60% of all Americans.
Ignoring scientific evidence is not ‘OK.’ In fact, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, in the first-ever outside peer-review of the Dietary Guidelines, said in 2017 that the process establishing the Guidelines was not using best practices for conducting systematic reviews and, “lacked scientific rigor.” The Academies advised that USDA adopt one of the international standards for reviewing of the science.
USDA chose the “GRADE” Standard. And this is my second point today.
The co-founder of GRADE, distinguished professor Dr. Gordon Guyatt who is one of the world’s top experts in evidence-based medicine, recently submitted a public comment to USDA. His point was: you, USDA, are not following the standards of GRADE in fundamental ways. Most importantly, you are not making important distinctions between high and low-quality evidence. Guyatt urged USDA not even to use the word “GRADE” because doing so would give the appearance of rigor where it did not exist. It would be “illusory,” he wrote. Further, he cautioned that if USDA were to continue, without proper methods for evaluating evidence, this would result in recommendations that “are unlikely to be trustworthy.”
In sum, our current Dietary Guidelines are not trustworthy They are based on weak evidence, and experts writing them have excluded nearly all the rigorous evidence to the contrary. USDA has been admonished by the National Academies of Sciences and encouraged to improve. Unfortunately the Guidelines are on track to repeat the same mistakes of the past--to the detriment of good science and to the health of the American people.
Watch Nina Teicholz’s testimony here.