Food Policy Heats Up: Nutrition Action Coalition Formed, Criticizes Dietary Guidelines

You've likely heard about the House Ag Committee hearing that took place yesterday to discuss the integrity of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, the precursor to the final Dietary Guidelines due out at the end of this year.  There have been several attempts to squash the report, to roll back certain recommendations and push others.  There are countless industry and other groups involved from every end of the spectrum.  Meat, dairy, coffee, you name it...

That said, I stand with other nutrition advocates who believe the USDA/HHS-led Dietary Guidelines process is sound, and that the final report will have a strong scientific backing.  It's unfortunate sustainability got yanked from what will become the Dietary Guidelines but more than likely, it's an attempt by these two federal agencies to appease some Members of Congress without having to put the kibosh on even more.

If you want to get a flavor for the sentiment surrounding today's hearing, all it takes is a quick read of Chairman Conaway's statement.  Here are two snippets:

"Not only did the committee exceed its scope when developing its recommendations, but the 2015 report raises concerns that studies were selected or excluded in order to support predetermined conclusions. It is crucial for HHS and the USDA to recognize the need for flexibility in the American diet to reflect the diverse population of this country. Inaccurate and conflicting dietary guidance messages are detrimental to consumer understanding of nutrition and their ability to build healthy diets."

And this:

"Given its expansion of the scope of evidence and movement away from its charter, there is a concern about whether the committee's recommendations will maintain the scientific integrity necessary to benefit the public. It is my hope that as USDA and HHS review the 2015 dietary committee recommendations, they consider the scientific evidence behind each of the determinations to ensure Americans are presented with the best and most reliable information for achieving a healthy, nutritional lifestyle."

This comes on the heels of Nina Teicholz's column in BMJ last week.  She criticized the Dietary Guidelines for not reflecting sound science.  In doing so, she received more than a small dose of criticism.  I wrote about it here.

So it's interesting to see these world's collide, and that's when we get to the newly formed Nutrition Action Coalition.  Their website is still in the works but their mission is to "ensure that national nutrition policy is based on rigorous science. Our activities focus on educating stakeholders, including the public, and working with policymakers and experts to improve the policy process."  So far, this has been code for working to critique the dietary guidelines process, the science used and the recommendations put forth by the committee.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ms. Teicholz is on the governing board.  Their scientific advisory board and medical council contain a host of names,  some of whom served on previous Dietary Guidelines advisory committees. 

I'm not yet sure of their motive beyond this report, or how significant their influence will be, but it's worth keeping an eye on how they evolve.  Here's their twitter handle and Facebook page.

Let's also note their funding.  For now, they take no industry dollars and are funded by philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold. 

Remains to be seen whether or not this group will be a political force on the Hill but in light of all the moving pieces around the Dietary Guidelines, they do seem poised to make some noise.