First published in October of 2011, this post announced a Q&A on line with Harvard’s Eric Rimm to answer question about the School of Public Health’s new “Healthy Eating Plate,” its own version of nutritional recommendations to compete with the USDA’s MyPlate. A rather limited window of one hour was allotted for the entire country to phone in our questions. Unfortunately HSPH was not as good at telecommunications as it is at epidemiology and the connection did not start working for a while. The questions that I wanted to ask, however, still stand and this post is a duplicate of the original with the notice about the Q&A removed. Harvard has been invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Ancestral Health Symposium, and we will see how these questions can be answered.
– adopted from Pops (at Louder and Smarter), the anonymous brilliant artist and admitted ne’er do well.
One of the questions surrounding USDA Nutrition Guidelines for Americans was whether so-called “sunshine laws,” like the Freedom of Information Act, were adhered to. Whereas hearings were recorded, and input from the public was solicited, there is the sense that if the letter of the law was followed, the spirit was weak. When I and colleagues testified at the USDA hearings, there was little evidence that their representatives were listening; there was no discussion. We said our piece and then were heard no more. In fact, at the break, when I tried to speak to one of the panel, somebody came out from backstage, I believe unarmed, to tell me that I could not discuss anything with the committee.
Harvard School of Public Health, home of “odds ratio = 1.22,” last month published their own implementation of the one size-fits-all approach to public nutrition, the”Healthy Eating Plate.” Their advice is full of “healthy,” “packed with” and other self-praise that makes this mostly an infomercial for HSPH’s point of view. Supposedly a correction of the errors in MyPlate from the USDA, it seems to be more similar than different. The major similarity is the disdain for the intelligence of the American public. Comparing the two plates (below), they have exchanged the positions of fruits and vegetables. “Grains” on MyPlate is now called “Whole Grains,” and “Protein” has been brilliantly changed to “Healthy Proteins.” How many NIH grants were required to think of this is unknown. Harvard will, of course, tell you what “healthy” is:, no red meat and, of course watch out for the Seventh Egg.
So here are the questions that I wanted to ask:
- Dr. Rimm, you are recommending a diet for all Americans but even within the pattern of general recommendations, I don’t know of any experimental trial that has tested it. Aren’t you just recommending another grand experiment like the original USDA recommendations which you are supposedly improving on?
- Dr. Rimm, given that half the population is overweight or obese shouldn’t there be at least two plates?
- Dr. Rimm, I think the American public expects a scientific document. Don’t you think continued use of the words “healthy,” “packed with nutrients,” makes the Plate more of an informercial for your point of view?
- Dr. Rimm, the Plate site says “The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice,” but it seems that is exactly what it is doing. If you say that you are recommending a diet that will “Lower blood pressure; reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and probably some cancers; lower risk of eye and digestive problems,” how is that not medical advice? Are you disowning responsibility for the outcome in advance?
- Dr. Rimm, more generally, how will you judge if these recommendations are successful? Is there a null hypothesis? The USDA recommendations continue from year to year without any considerations of past successes or failures.
- Dr. Rimm, “healthy” implies general consensus but there are many scientists and physicians with good credentials and experience who hold to different opinions. Have you considered these opinions in formulating the plate? Is there any room for dissent or alternatives?
- Dr. Rimm, the major alternative point of view is that low-carbohydrate diets offer benefits for weight loss and maintenance and, obviously, for diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Although your recommendations continually refer to regulation of blood sugar, it is not incorporated in the Plate.
- Dr. Rimm, nutritionally, fruits have more sugar, more calories, less potassium, fewer antioxidants than vegetables. Why are they lumped together? And how can you equate beans, nuts and meat as a source of protein?
- Dr. Rimm, looking at the comparison of MyPlate and your Plate, it seems that all that is changed is that “healthy” has been added to proteins and “whole” has been added to grains. If people know what “healthy” is, why is there an obesity epidemic? Or are you blaming the patient?
- Dr. Rimm, you are famous for disagreeing on lipids with the DGAC committee yet your name is on their report as well as on this document is supposed to be an alternative. Do we know where you stand?
- Dr. Rimm, the Healthy Plate “differences” page says “The Healthy Eating Plate is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.” This implies that the USDA recommendations are subject to such pressures. What is the evidence for this? You were a member of the USDA panel. What pressures were brought to bear on you and how did you deal with them
- Dr. Rimm, the Healthy Plate still limits saturated fat even though a study from your department showed that there was, in fact, no effect of dietary saturated fat on cardiovascular disease. That study, moreover, was an analysis of numerous previous trials, the great majority of which individually showed no risk from saturated fat. What was wrong with that study that allows you to ignore it?
*Medicineball, (colloq) a game that derives from Moneyball, in which an “unscientific culture responds, or fails to respond, to the scientific method ” in order to stay funded.