Public health experts expressed shock Tuesday as the Trump administration released dietary guidelines that included no updates to advice regarding alcohol and sugar consumption, despite recommendations by a committee of scientists who urged specific changes to the guidance.
The failure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to take into account the advisory panel’s recommendations “will impact eating habits, school lunch menus, and food stamp policies,” and will lead to “poor health” for Americans, Dr. Liron Sinvani, a geriatrician, said on social media.
Over the summer, the committee had called on the agencies to reduce the recommended consumption of sugars to 6% of daily calorie intake, down from the current recommendation of 10%, when devising the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are updated every five years. On average, Americans consume slightly more than the suggested amount, with sugars making up about 13% of daily calories, according to the New York Times.
When releasing their suggested guidelines, the panel of scientists noted that excessive sugar consumption can lead to chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, which make severe Covid-19 symptoms more likely if a person contracts the disease.
The guidance was released as huge surges in coronavirus cases were reported in states including California, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee. More than 336,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 this year.
The pandemic has also been linked to a rise in alcohol consumption; according to Nielsen, sales in stores were up 54% in late March, as states and cities instituted stay-at-home orders, and online sales shot up nearly 500% a month later.
But the USDA and HHS declined to take the committee’s advice to recommend that men limit their consumption to one drink per day, instead retaining guidelines saying men should stick to two drinks per day and women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage daily.
“The Trump agencies ignored the recommendation of the scientific committee they had appointed, and instead reverted to the recommendation of the previous guidelines,” Marion Nestle, a professor emerita of nutrition at New York University, told the Times. “They ignored the scientific committee which they appointed, which I thought was astounding.”
The guidelines are used to determine what meals are served to students who get school lunches, as well as what Americans facing food insecurity can purchase with Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
In its report last summer, the committee called on HHS and USDA to take into consideration the public comments it gathered while devising recommendations, including many that urged the federal government to evaluate the “sustainability of recommended dietary patterns, [and address] the social and economic aspects of access to foods that are components of healthy dietary patterns.”
But as the Times reported, the agencies did not take into account the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions from food industries or the “scientific consensus about the need to adopt dietary patterns that reduce food insecurity and chronic diseases.”
Critics on social media noted that the guidelines represent the Trump administration’s latest side-lining of scientific experts. President Donald Trump has flouted guidance from scientists and doctors regarding the coronavirus pandemic as well as disbanding an expert panel on air pollution at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Again going against scientific advice, again failing the people they serve,” tweeted Reuters journalist Rodrigo Campos.