Monday, December 21, 2015

How The 2016 Federal Budget impacts nutrition, dietary advice and calorie labeling

If you are confused about what foods to eat and which constitute a healthy routine diet, you are not alone. In fact, this year has been extraordinary for its confusion and contention surrounding nutrition science and dietary guidelines. In fact, the experts - nutrition and public health – do not agree. The controversy was simmering even before the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, an update to the Guidelines I meticulously explained and passionately promoted 5 years ago – before I joined the rank of researcher (i.e., became a more critical reviewer).

Did the uproar over the Committee’s recommendations make its way into your daily news briefs? If so, you’ll know that the contention was strongest around the recommendation to lower meat intake, not just for health, but for the planet – for sustainability.

After the report was released, a non-scientist, nutrition journalist published a scathing article on the recommendations, which led to a crusade by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a point by point response letter signed by over 100 experts, researchers and scholars (myself included) that was posted just about a week ago.

There is not just dissent on the recommendations, which include less salt, less saturated fat, less sugar, but also on the scientific evidence used and the scientific process itself. So much so, that the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Bill 2016, delays the release of the guidelines! Read for yourself (selected text from the Congressional directives):

Congress continues to be concerned about the quality of scientific evidence and extraneous factors that were included in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's Scientific Report.

To ensure the guidelines adhere to the nutritional and dietary scope of the law and are based upon sound science, bill language has been included clearly stating that the final guidelines cannot be released or implemented unless they are based upon significant scientific agreement and adhere to the statutory mandate.

Questions have been raised about the scientific integrity of the process in developing the dietary guidelines and whether balanced nutritional information is reaching the public. The entire process used to formulate and establish the guidelines needs to be reviewed before future guidelines are issued. It is imperative that the guidelines be based upon strong, balanced science and focus on providing consumers with dietary and nutritional information that will assist them in eating a healthy and balanced diet. At a minimum, the process should include: full transparency, a lack of bias, and the inclusion and consideration of all of the latest available research and scientific evidence, even that which challenges current dietary recommendations.

The agreement (the Budget) provides $1,000,000 to review the dietary guideline process.

And that’s not all! The Omnibus Appropriations Bill takes aim at school nutrition and calorie labeling as well. The federal government by enactment of this bill, further delays calorie postings for grocery stores and ‘similar retail establishments,’ which I am assuming are the bowling alleys, movie theatres and convenience stores. My colleagues tell me that the FDA had already made those postponements and the Budget Bill just makes it a mandate. I might have been too focused on vending – which was already set for 2016 – to have noticed. What I am thinking is 1) this calorie labeling is never gonna happen and 2) if the federal law is not in place, state and local laws can’t be pre-empted, thus they can remain more restrictive… good for Philadelphia.

With regard to the school lunch program, schools can have more time to figure out how to increase the whole grain content of meals – though 95% of schools haven’t suggested that they need more time, so this is dumb. Also, the rule to lower the sodium content to a new lower goal has been halted pending scientific evidence that it is necessary to do so for health.

Here are a couple of links re the budget that was just passed.

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