Industry Data Quality Challenge Weakens Dietary Guidelines: Deadline for Comments Sept. 27

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Published  09/07/2004 10:59 PM

An industry data quality challenge appears to have succeeded in weakening new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines.

Last year, the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness, an industry advocacy group, filed data quality challenges with USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over a World Health Organization (WHO) Report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. The agencies announced their intention to use the WHO report and its recommendation as a significant base for the pending 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The CRE challenge disputed two of the WHO report's recommendations which propose healthy levels for sugar and carbohydrates.

The WHO report recommended that for a healthy diet sugar consumption should remain below 10 percent of the total energy goal. The report also recommended that carbohydrates should comprise 55-75 percent of the diet. The CRE's challenge asserted that other studies placed maximum healthy sugar intake as high as 25 percent and that many successful low carbohydrate diets contradict the WHO recommendation. The group insisted that the WHO should not be used as basis for the new U.S. dietary guidelines.

Every five years the USDA and HHS review and update the dietary guidelines, famous for their food pyramid chart. A 13-member scientific panel recently released the recommended dietary guidelines, which acknowledge the link between sugar and weight gain, but do not specifically recommend that Americans limit sugar consumption. The panel claimed that more research was necessary before a clear position on sugar could be taken.

Consumer groups had hoped the panel would follow the WHO report and recommend clear limits on consumption of sugary foods such as soft drinks, candy, and cookies. Beverage makers and the sugar industry strongly opposed such a position and would likely support the data quality challenge. Concerns have also been raised about the USDA's objectivity, given the agency's role in promoting agricultural products. Last year, consumer groups requested the removal of seven panel members because of close ties to the food industry, but none of them were removed.

The new recommended dietary guidelines are now open for review. The USDA and HHS are accepting public comments until Sept. 27 and will hold a public meeting Sept. 21. Written comments can be submitted online or mailed into the address provided in the Federal Register notice.

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