A team of researchers is asking the question: Do national dietary guidelines do more harm than good?
Given national epidemics of obesity and other food-related illnesses, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva in the Bronx says the latest revision of dietary guidelines ought to be shaped by "explicit standards of evidence to ensure the public good."
The dietary guidelines are revised every five years, and the next revision is due in 2010.
When dietary guidelines were initially introduced in the late 1970s, their population-based approach was especially attractive since it was presumed to carry little risk, says Dr. Paul Marantz, who also is professor of epidemiology and population health, and of medicine at Einstein. However, the message delivered by these guidelines might actually have had a negative impact on health, including our current obesity epidemic. The possibility that these dietary guidelines might actually be endangering health is at the core of our concern about the way guidelines are currently developed and issued.
A similar broadside against these kinds of health and eating recommendations came from Michael Pollan's latest book, in which he urged a simple message: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In other words, if you avoid processed foods and eat a mix of real foods, you'll be likely to get all the nutrients you need without too much fat or calories and all without fussing over the label.
The professors raise a similar concern, and have some suggestive but not conclusive evidence.
As doctors, our first call is to do no harm, Marantz said. "Thats why we recommend that guidelines be generous in providing information, but more cautious in giving direction. Any directions should be based on the very highest standards of scientific evidence. After all, we expect that much from pharmaceutical companies before they bring a new drug to market.
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