Newsletter Update | April 4, 2018

The Nutrition Coalition Update | April 4, 2018


  • Thousands Provide Public Comments on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines
  • New Stats on Rising Obesity in the U.S. Show Poor Diet to Blame
  • Group Attempts to Ban Processed Meat Based on Weak Evidence


On Friday of last week, the USDA closed its public comment period for topics to be addressed by the 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Thousands of you commented on the need to update the guidelines on topics where the science has evolved, particularly on saturated fats (over 1,100 comments) and low-carbohydrate diets (over 1,300 comments). We particularly want to thank our board member Dr. Mark Hyman, who stirred up the set on CBS This Morning by talking about the lack of good science behind the Dietary Guidelines.


The grim picture for rising obesity rates in America continues. According to the latest report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of obesity among adults rose from 33.7 percent in 2007-2008 to nearly 40 percent today. And yet at the same time, Americans are exercising more! The report notes that 54 percent of Americans now meet the government’s physical activity guidelines, up from just 41 percent in 2005.
Yikes! Obesity is also on the rise for children. Roughly 29% of children aged 2 to 19 were overweight in 1999. Just seven years later, that figure had risen to 35%, according to a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics. This happened despite the “Let’s Move” campaign rolled out under Michelle Obama.

It’s clearly diet that’s driving these trends. As experts increasingly say, ‘You can’t outrun a bad diet.’ Rather, the problem is what we’re eating. Or, more likely, what we’re being told to eat.

The costs of these diseases is mind-boggling—now at $327 billion, according to a new study in Diabetes Care. This is a 26% rise since 2012. If one wants to talk about sustainability, this is what’s unsustainable.


The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a vegan group run by animal-welfare activist Neal Barnard, has launched a series of attacks against processed meat, based on claims that these meats, such as cured ham and sausages, cause disease. This group is behind a legislative proposal announced March 22 in Brooklyn, NY, to ban processed meat from all New York city public schools and also a lawsuit in March charging the Texas Beef Council with engaging in deceptive trade practices by promoting beef as good for health. This follows PCRM’s unsuccessful effort last summer to eliminate processed meats from public schools in Los Angeles along with another Southern California county. PCRM bases its case exclusively on weak epidemiological evidence that cannot show cause and effect. We’re not aware of any rigorous (clinical trial) evidence demonstrating any ill effect of red meat on obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer or heart disease. See a recent talk by science journalist and Nutrition Coalition Executive Director Nina Teicholz on this topic.
Of course WHO-IARC in 2015 did categorize processed meat as a “Class One” carcinogen, but the science behind this decision was only released this week (2.5 years later), revealing that it was not only based exclusively on low-quality epidemiological data but also that this evidence was in itself exceptionally weak (a “relative risks” of just 1.18, which does not remotely meet criteria for establishing cause and effect). Keeping this in perspective, we’d like to remind folks that according to IARC, everything causes cancer and that just this week, a Los Angeles judge ruled that California must soon require Starbucks and other coffee sellers to display cancer warnings on all coffee drinks.  We’ll have more to say on this science in our next newsletter. (Reminder: The Nutrition Coalition is not “for” or “against” any food; we believe only in policy based on rigorous science).


Do soda taxes work to reduce obesity? The Cato Institute says probably not. "The tendency to declare victory early with sin taxes is common..." but often the complete picture tells a different story. (Remember there was a Bloomberg study showing that soda taxes were effective, but since Bloomberg also funds these taxes, it has a vested interest).
It turns out that the FDA’s regulation requiring calorie postings on restaurant menus has an almost minimal effect on food choices. People informed of calorie counts wind up selecting foods reduced by only 38 fewer calories (about 41/2 almonds worth) than those who are uninformed, according to a report by the RAND Corporation. Is the investment in publicizing calorie counts worth it? One has to wonder, especially since the science in recent years has conclusively shown that sustainable weight loss is determined by much more than simply counting calories. We also wonder why the FDA was allowed to pursue a policy without prior efficacy evidence.

The New Yorker reports on how professor Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab is accused of faking his data to grab headlines, including some that targeted the iconic The Joy of Cooking. This story has a serious side—namely the dangerous degree to which nutrition scientists may be motivated not by good science or the public health. Wansink’s case is interesting because, as originally reported by BuzzFeed, he is alleged to have been fueled almost entirely by a desire for fame, a.k.a, headlines in the media. This kind of attention-mongering is a well-established motivator for nutrition scientists, going back to Ancel Keys who landed on the cover of Time for suggesting that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease (which we now know is not the case).


Egg consumption in the US is on the rise, perhaps because consumers are responding to the fact that America health authorities since 2015 have dropped their longstanding caps on dietary cholesterol. For decades Americans ate egg-white omelets to avoid cholesterol, but this advice turns out to have been flawed all along. And what a shame, because all the nutrients (choline and lutein, which are essential for brain and eye health, plus plenty of vitamins) are in…yes, the yolks.
Older consumers are warming to animal fats, following a trend already established by millennials.
Butter really, really is back, says Bloomberg, looking at market demand and a recent USDA report. “Consumers are increasingly demanding dairy products that are richer in fat as they are allowing fat, and thus also butter, back into their diets,” commented Hanne Soendergaard, executive vice president of marketing and innovation of Arla Foods.


Can this analysis of health and diet in Victorian England shed any light on healthful dietary patterns? The analysis shows that rural dwellers were healthier than city folk. “Poor urban families subsided mostly on white bread and potatoes with a little meat, milk and vegetables…But in rural areas, the poor often received meat, milk and vegetables instead of cash as payment for their work. Many also had small patches of land where they could grow vegetables or raise an animal or two for additional sources of food.”


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The Nutrition Coalition is a nonprofit educational organization working to strengthen national nutrition policy so that it is founded upon a comprehensive body of conclusive science, and where that science is absent, to encourage additional research. We accept no money from any interested industry.
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