Dietary Advice and Obesity

David Brown recently commented on a Sciencebase item on the obesity epidemic. This is the complete transcript of his comment:

In both the UK and the USA, inappropriate dietary advice from government agencies is largely responsible for the perpetuating high rates of obesity and chronic disease.

In the USA, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is the arm of the Agriculture Department that formulates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). In many other countries the public health sectors utilize DGA to formulate public policy. This is to the advantage of the food manufacturing and beverage industries who market their wares globally. And this is why there is a global obesity problem.

The CNPP is currently revising the DGA. This is a transparent process that anyone can monitor and comment on. After the the initial (October 2008) meeting of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee someone named Ethyl submitted this rather terse (and slightly disrespectful) comment.

“Here’s how I’d like to answer the members of the USDA if I could speak to them personally about what nutritional guidelines to provide for Americans:

  1. You need to decide what is more important to you: support for the wheat, soy, corn, and sugar industries or the health of Americans.
  2. You need to wrap your minds around the fact that the nutritional advice you have dispensed for the past forty years is dead wrong. A diet with carbohydrates as the largest daily food group makes people fat and/or sick.
  3. You have been embarrassingly wrong for the past forty years about the dangers of fat in the diet. The extreme fat reduction you have recommended makes people fat and/or sick.
  4. Your dietary recommendations for the past forty years are largely responsible for the amount of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, depression, and more that Americans experience in ever-increasing numbers.
  5. I visited the Web site and found your pyramid to be what one would expect government bureaucrats to create: unnecessarily complicated, confusing, filled with misinformation, and condescending. It claims to be “science-based” but does not admit – or understand? – that it is based on junk science that has been poorly conducted.
  6. If you want to give the public at large advice about what to eat to be healthy or correct many health problems, it should go something like this:

    a. Eat mostly real food, not food products processed in food labs.

    b. Make the time to prepare almost all of your meals at home from scratch. Know what’s in the food you eat.

    c. Retrain your body to derive its energy from fat instead of carbohydrates by fueling it with quality fats such as lard, coconut oil, butter, nut oils, and olive oil. Eliminate all trans fat from the diet, and drastically reduce the amount of fat from vegetable oils. Saturated fat is good for you, enjoy it.

    d. Limit carbohydrates to those derived from low-starch vegetables and low-sugar fruits. See how much better you feel when you don’t eat wheat, corn, soy, rice, potatoes, pasta legumes, or other grains or foods containing them.

    e. Know how much protein you need to consume daily to maintain your lean body mass and make sure you eat at least that many grams every day.

    f. If you eat dairy products, make sure they are full-fat.

    g. Eat nuts in moderation.”

    Unlike the world’s politicians and academics, Ethyl realizes what’s wrong with our industrialized food supply. It is a consequence of ignorance. It’s a problem that emerged in the nineteenth century with the development of technology that made it possible to cheaply and efficiently produce enormous quantities of sugar, refined wheat flour, and omega-6 seed oils. As the science of chemistry advanced, chemical technology spawned the grain-based food manufacturing industry that supplies a great deal of the world’s caloric intake.

    Warnings by scientists have gone unheeded. For example, in the Preface to “Food for Nought” (1973), biochemist, author, and teacher Ross Hume Hall, PhD observed, “Nourishment of the American populace has undergone a startling transformation since World War II. A highly individual system of growing and marketing food has been transformed into a gigantic, highly integrated service system in which the object is not to nourish or even to feed, but to force an ever-increasing consumption of fabricated products.

    This phenomenon is not peculiar to the American scene and occurs in every industrialized country. The United States, however, has progressed furthest in the transformation. Man can never be more than what he eats, and one would expect that a phenomenon with such profound effects on health and well-being as a radically changed system of supplying nourishment would be thoroughly documented and assessed by the scientific community. Such is not the case.

    The transformation has gone unmarked by government agencies and learned bodies. Government agencies, recipients of the public trust charged with protecting and improving the public’s food, operate as if the technology of food fabrication rested in pre-World War II days. Scientific bodies, supported by public funds and charged with assessing and improving the public’s health, ignore completely the results of contemporary methods of producing and marketing food.”

    Since governance involves a broad spectrum of political issues, it’s perhaps understandable that politicians are not programmed, by either their education or their experience, to be interested in food issues much less understand them. While this may continue to be the case, it would be incredibly helpful if grass roots efforts to improve the quality of the food supply and correct the government’s horrid dietary advice had the interest and support of legislative bodies and heads of state.