A second study finds Dietary Guidelines panel rife with conflicts of interest

When the job of recommending dietary guidelines occurred during the pandemic,  the task went almost unnoticed, but so did the conflicts of interest that existed among the 20 people who had the advisory role, a new study finds.

And those conflicts are not going unnoticed with the publication of a second study on conflicts of interests for the advisory panel for the 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The new study in Public Health Nutrition from Cambridge University Press follows an earlier report on previously documented conflicts of interest by the Boston-based nonprofit, Corporate Accountability.

A spokesman for Corporate Accountability says the  new study  finds the federal scientific advisors to the dietary process “are even more conflicted than previously through.”

Some of the key findings:

  • 95 percent of the last Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has at least one tie to an industry actor.

  • Researchers were able to document more than 700 instances of Conflict of Interest (COI) for the committee in total. 

  • One advisor alone accounted for 152 of these instances.

  • Multiple advisors were connected to more than 30 industry actors.

  • Among corporations, Kellogg, Abbott, Kraft, Mead Johnson, General Mills, and Dannon had the most frequent and durable connections to advisors.

  • Among trade or front groups, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) had the most extensive engagement with advisors, with the California Walnut Commission, Almond Board of California, and Beef Checkoff also looming large.

“These findings shed critical light on how the industry could be exerting self-serving pressure on the centerpiece of U.S. food and nutrition policy,” the spokesman added. This is especially germaine as nominations for the next committee are expected this fall.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, (DGA) as published by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services for 2020-2025 is in its 9th edition since it began in 1980. Work on the 2025-2030 edition begins next fall with the appointment of the science advisor panel of 20 experts.

“Our analysis has shown that the significant and widespread conflicts of interests on the committee prevent the Dietary Guidelines Advisory from achieving the recommended standard for transparency without mechanisms in place to make this information publicly available,” the new study abstract says.

The conflicts of interest analysis go back more than a decade but is limited to the publicly available information.

The dietary guidelines are supposed to “meet nutrient needs, promote health and prevent disease,” and are required to be the foundation for all nutrition programs. State and local government programs, healthcare, hospitals, and community groups pay particular attention to the adopted guidelines.

“The DGA recommendations are important since they are meant to shape what Americans eat and drink,” it says. That’s why the food interest is known to influence the DGA process.

Government ethics rules require panel appointees to submit financial information, a Form450 disclosure. However, that process does not prevent anyone from being appointed.

The deeper analysis conducted by the new study found that 19 out of 20 of the recent committee members had some form of relationship with industry actors.  Only one of the panelists was without conflict.

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