Harvard Experts Criticize New Government Diet Guidelines

The U.S. government’s new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limits on added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats; drop a previous limit on total fats, emphasizing healthy fats instead; and urge overall healthy eating patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But the new guidelines also have some troubling omissions, according to nutrition experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who were quoted in various media outlets after the new guidelines were released on January 7, 2016.


The experts also weighed in with an overview and critique of the new guidelines in an article on Harvard Chan School’s Nutrition Source.

Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School, told NBC News that he was disappointed that the new guidelines strayed from some key recommendations made last year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), such as advice to cut back on red meat and sugary beverages.

“Unfortunately, the USDA has censored the recommendation of the Scientific Advisory Committee to consume less red meat,” Willett said in a January 7, 2016 article. “In fact, the dietary guidelines promote consumption of red meat as long as it is lean, which is not what the science supports. There is strong evidence that red meat consumption increases risk of diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and some cancers (especially processed meat), and there is not good evidence that this is simply due to the fat content.”

In a Time magazine article, Willett noted, “This is a loss for the American public and a win for big beef and big soda. The problem isn’t just that the public gets misleading, censored information, but that these guidelines get translated into national food programs, such as the menus for our kids in schools, diets for pregnant women, and programs for low-income Americans. This then gets directly translated into unnecessary premature deaths, diabetes, and suffering…of course this goes on to mean greater health care costs for all. It is all connected.”

Willett was also quoted in a January 8, 2016 Time article about the influence of the food industry in shaping the guidelines.“The current system opens the guidelines up to lobbying and manipulation of data,” Willett said. In the same article, Harvard Chan School’s Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and one of the experts who served on the DGAC, said that the meat industry has historically had “huge influence” on the USDA—which, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issues the dietary guidelines.

Read a Q & A with Hu: Assessing the new U.S. dietary guidelines
Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, faulted the guidelines for not including anything about food systems and environmental sustainability, which had been addressed extensively in the DGAC report. “The censoring of the environmental effects was very unfortunate but expected, due to congressional action,” he told MedPage Today. And he echoed Willett’s dismay at the lack of warnings on red meat. “Taking out advice to eat less red meat is flat out in opposition to what the committee recommended for straightforward dietary advice, based on strong science,” he said.

Read the NBC News article: Who’s Mad About The New Dietary Guidelines? Cancer Experts, for One
Read the Time magazine article: Here’s What 10 Experts Think of the Government’s New Diet Advice
Read the MedPage Today article: 2015 Diet Guide Departs From Recommendations


Filed under Government dietary guidelines, Harvard

3 responses to “Harvard Experts Criticize New Government Diet Guidelines

  1. Thank God for a little sanity Tony, that’s all I can say. “Big beef” indeed. How about big science and big academia? I’m tired of those yahoos trying to outdo each other for who can come up with the most restrictive diet recommendations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the other hand, there are a lot of us who are digging ourselves into an early grave with a knife and fork. There are 2/3 of us overweight and half of them are obese. We got some bad eating habits.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes indeed, but that’s mainly due to portions that are three times too big and not enough activity. The problem is, after big science gets in bed with big academia, that unholy alliance births big government and all of a sudden you can only by a steak on the black market. Try to find a salt shaker in a New York restaurant. Freedom’s a serious pain in the butt, but so is power. I’d rather see people die early due to freedom than have to worry about how we are going to fund social security… That’s the flip side of that coin that gets swept under the rug.


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