Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Eric Hentges discusses Dietary Guidelines and dairy weight loss claims at the Friedman School

In today's session of the highest-visibility weekly school-wide lecture series at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, Dr. Eric Hentges gave a nice review of the science and policy process behind USDA's Dietary Guidelines and the new MyPyramid graphic. Dr. Hentges is the current director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and former vice president of the National Pork Board.

We treat our guests politely, but I did ask one hard question. As you know, under instructions from Congress, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service sponsors and endorses the "checkoff" advertising programs, which encourage us to eat more beef, pork, and cheese. In their nutrition messages, these checkoff programs directly contradict the mainstream calorie balance message of the Dietary Guidelines. For example, scientifically doubtful high-calcium dairy weight loss claims have been a centerpiece of the fluid milk and dairy checkoff programs, as described in USDA's annual report to Congress. Or, as another example, consider the low-carb fad diet logo and motto of Hentges' former employer, the National Pork Board.

I asked Hentges if he ever has in the past, or ever would in the future, ask the Agricultural Marketing Service to allow the able nutritionists on Hentges' staff at USDA/CNPP to review the checkoff messages for consistency with the Dietary Guidelines. After all, Hentges has said previously, and said again today, that these guidelines represent the federal government's "one voice" on nutrition communication.

Hentges answered that the dairy weight loss message appears consistent with the dietary guidelines. While I do want to be polite, Hentges' answer is false.

Hentges referred to the fact that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, while explicitly declining to endorse the dairy weight loss claim, did mention that dairy products are not distinctly fattening relative to other foods with similar calories. That is a very different matter. To say that dairy food is not distinctly fattening is to be entirely consistent with the mainstream federal scientifically-based advice about calorie balance. By contrast, for Hentges to say that dairy weight loss claims are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines is to dishonor the hard work and true convictions of his staff at USDA/CNPP and the scientists USDA recruited to give Americans the best possible advice on nutrition and health.

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