The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, reissued on a five-yearly basis, have caused unrest before, mainly among professionals whose job it is to comment on nutrition-related government actions. The most recent iteration of the guidelines stirred mild interest by including babies and toddlers. But a Harvard Health Publishing article also brought up another matter:
Criticisms revolve around the authors’ reported financial ties to the food industry and the discrepancies between the published guidelines and the recommendations submitted to the authors by the scientific advisory committee.
Now, why on earth would the authors neglect to utilize the information compiled specifically, and at the taxpayers’ expense, for that report? HHP went on to explain,
This potential conflict of interest can lead health care professionals to doubt how tightly the recommendations adhere to scientific literature and wonder how to provide evidence-based information to patients.
Foreshadowing accurately predicted that someone — in this case, the journal Public Health Nutrition at Cambridge University Press — would take up the line of questioning about what it characterized as some “stunning” conflicts of interest (COI). The paper was in fact specifically written to scrutinize the advisory committee’s perhaps too-cozy relationship with the food and pharmaceutical industries, and to examine the mechanisms that had been in place to (supposedly) disclose and manage conflicts of interest.
The terminology itself is a bit misleading. There is no conflict of interest between the members of a governmental committee who speak up on behalf of various products and services, and the companies that reward them for making recommendations advantageous to those companies. The desires and goals of those parties are quite neatly aligned.
No, the conflict lies in the fact their alliance is against the interests of the public, in our roles as taxpayers and as guinea pigs for the products and services they advocate, and as patients who wind up sick and financially depleted by dishonest reportage of the science. In fact, that is what the 20 researchers set out to prove:
We hypothesed that these committee members, who oversee the science for the most influential dietary policy in the U.S, might have significant COI that would be relevant to their decision making.
The report includes some very gnarly-looking charts tracing the relationships between the specialists who are paid by giant corporations to influence policy, and the academicians entrusted with the mission of telling the government what policies it should make and enforce. The report concludes,
Our analysis found that 95% of the committee members had COI with the food, and/or pharmaceutical industries and that particular actors, including Kellogg, Abbott, Kraft, Mead Johnson, General Mills, Dannon, and the International Life Sciences had connections with multiple members.
A PDF file of the document is available to anyone who wishes to download it. Keep an eye out for such key phrases as…
– direct interest
– corporate interests
– measures to disclose
– current ethics process
– prolonged relationship
– contrary to the standard
– self-reported disclosures
– public trust and confidence
– not made available to the public
– contrary to the recommendation
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “New dietary guidelines: Any changes for infants, children, and teens?,” Harvard.edu, 01/26/21
Source: “Conflicts of interest for members of the U.S. 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,” Cambridge.org, 03/21/22
Image by David Goehring/CC BY 2.0