The Dietary Guidelines Saga

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The Congressional hearing about the revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans came up in October of 2015. As we discussed, tension was in the air between the writer Nina Teicholz and people who thought she was not acting ethically. The other side was aghast at the knowledge that The BMJ had been paid by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to publish an article in which Teicholz criticized the proceedings of the Guidelines committee.

On the eve of the hearing, a new political action group suddenly emerged. This was the Nutrition Coalition, and the response of the other players was “skeptical” to put it mildly. In addition to the controversial journal article, Teicholz had written a book proposing that dietary fat is not such a bad thing. She generously distributed copies around Washington to influential people whose acquaintance she was able to make through the Nutrition Coalition’s lobbyists.

Bill Tomson at Politico learned that the Nutrition Coalition/Arnolds had already spent, one way and another, somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million on improving nutrition science. Their foundation claims not to be rigidly biased, and to be genuinely interested in pursuing truth no matter where the chase leads. The blogger known as CarbSane goes into great detail about the funding mechanisms that are utilized to advance the Arnolds’ interests.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with these strategies. It is the way things are done. And just because someone publicizes a book that praises dietary fat, that does not mean dietary fat is ipso facto an evil.

Fancy hospitality and entertainment are always features of events designed to persuade thought leaders. For Politico, Chase Purdy and Helena Bottemiller Evich evoked the atmosphere of a gathering held at a hotel in Georgetown, a very elite section of Washington, D.C., for heavy hitters concerned about the Guidelines. Among the attendees were lobbyists, consultants (lobbyists with multiple clients), food industry executives, and “nutrition power players.”

The writers said:

Some were interested in changing the guidelines for commercial reasons. Others were deeply concerned about the scientific integrity behind the government’s advice. But the Arnold’s lobbying group had brought them together.

Sometime after that meeting, the separate Nutrition Coalition — funded solely by the Arnolds’ Action Now Initiative — started to take shape, several sources told POLITICO. The Nutrition Coalition does not allow industry funding or membership.

Suspected of subpar ethics by some, and scorned in some quarters for advocating saturated fat, Nina Teicholz became one of the human assets in the Nutrition Coalition’s “vigorous advocacy campaign to reshape how the U.S. government determines what makes a healthy diet.”

One critic called the Nutrition Coalition’s campaign dangerous and harmful. This was Dietary Guidelines panel member Barbara Millen. Teicholz retorted that Millen should not have even been on the panel, much less chairing it, because of a rather glaring conflict of interest.

Meanwhile the renowned Marion Nestle came down on the side that doubted Teicholz’s legitimacy to speak on the subject. And on and on.

(… To be continued.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Billionaire-backed coalition edges into nutrition sphere,” Politico.com, 10/07/15
Source: “Laura and John Arnold Foundation,” CarbSanity.blogspot.com, 10/08/15
Source: “The money behind the fight over healthy eating,” Politico.com, 10/07/15
Photo credit: Evil Erin via Visualhunt/CC BY

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