Organizations like The Nutrition Coalition, which recommends a low-carbohydrate diet, say they are worried the panel will overlook recent studies, some of them controversial, that question longstanding admonitions against consuming too much red meat and other saturated fats. She said she feared the guidelines would continue recommendations that emphasize generous servings of refined grains and other carbohydrates.
“It’s pretty self evident that the guidelines have done nothing to prevent our country’s epidemic of obesity and diabetes,” said Nina Teicholz, the group’s executive director.
Then there is the matter of conflicts of interest. More than half the advisory panel members this year have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute, an industry group largely supported by agribusiness, food and pharmaceutical companies. The group, created by a Coca-Cola executive four decades ago, has long been accused by the World Health Organization and others of trying to undermine public health recommendations to advance the interests of its corporate members.
In a report issued in April, Corporate Accountability noted that the two newly created subcommittees considering dietary issues for pregnant and lactating women and children under 24 months were led by scientists who have worked for Danone, Gerber and other makers of toddler food products.
Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University who served on the advisory panel in 1995, said the large number of experts with industry ties reflected the dearth of public funding for nutrition science, which forces many researchers to accept funding from food companies and industry associations. “Anyone who thinks it’s not OK to accept corporate money would never get appointed to that committee,” she said. “That’s considered so biased that you’re too biased to function.”
Despite concerns about this year’s process, Ms. Nestle said she believed the new guidelines would likely resemble the recommendations that were issued five years ago. The bigger issue, she said, is that most Americans will find the guidelines hard to decipher and unsure how to apply them to their own eating habits.
“Every five years, the guidelines get longer and more complicated,” she said. “In my view, the advice is the same: Eat your vegetables don’t gain too much weight and avoid junk foods with a lot of salt, sugar and saturated fat.”