Dr. Campbell’s recommendations for Dietary Guidelines
In 1980, the first report by the Dietary Guidelines (DG) Advisory Committee was authored by two friends of mine, the late Harvard School of Public Health Professor Mark Hegsted PhD (representing the McGovern Committee and the USDA) and Allan Forbes MD, formerly FDA Chief of Nutrition. I have remained keenly interested in the 5-year reports ever since.
Unfortunately, I have gradually lost much of my early enthusiasm for this advisory committee. During the past 35 years, I have seen little if any progress toward a better understanding of diet, nutrition and health. This is regrettable because these reports serve as guidelines for health education, government school lunch, WIC (women, infants and children), and other important public programs. I do not see how this report is any more progressive or insightful than its predecessors. Previous reports have included new words and phrases which unfortunately did not lead to any real change. These modifications seem more intended for media attention, and I have found them to be cosmetic. Over the decades, we have witnessed the recommendations take the form of a square (“Basic Four”) turned into a pyramid, into a dinner plate, and (almost) into a circle—all with similar content. Marketing yes, but science no.
Failing to be more critical of the relationship between food and health favors the status quo, which already promotes the consumption of food that promotes costly diseases. A more impactful message is needed if the health of the nation is to be advanced.
Some people are pleased that the 2015 DG report mentions an association between livestock-based food and climate change. But USDA Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has already stated that the environment-food association is unlikely to be taken seriously. This coincides with food industry leaders’ contention that this committee has no expertise in this area. Others are impressed with the phrase “plant-based food” as evidence that there might be enlightenment in the air. Sadly, I believe that merely using this language without being more specific is relatively superficial. The urgency for real dietary changes should be taken seriously.