The government publishes Dietary Guidelines that are supposed to improve public health, but they often inadvertently manipulate the food market and erode public trust in the same government institutions authoring them. Although most Americans don’t follow the guidelines closely, healthcare workers rely on these guidelines for nutrition advice, and all federal food assistance programs are based on the guidelines. 

How much do you know about U.S. Dietary Guidelines? Play the party game/icebreaker “Two Truths and a Lie” to find out!  

A. Obesity, type II diabetes, and high blood pressure have gotten better since the introduction of the Dietary Guidelines.

B. Government guidance on products, such as eggs, trans fats, and a plant-based diet, has been inconsistent.

C. The impact of alcohol and red meat consumption on one’s health depends on your personal medical history, body makeup, and genetic disposition.

A. Lie! The U.S. government introduced the Dietary Guidelines in 1980, and they are revised every five years, as required by public law. Since the 1980s, the prevalence of obesity in both adults and children has increased significantly according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The incidence of type II diabetes has increased from about 5.5 million Americans to more than 37 million since the 1980s, and the prevalence of high blood pressure has also increased from about 18% of U.S. adults to roughly 47%. Correlation vs. causation is up for debate, especially because society has changed so much in over four decades, but making recommendations that influence families to change their diets for the worse has certainly not helped.

B. Truth! The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) (which is the interagency committee responsible for issuing the guidelines every five years) endorsed studies published between the 1970s and 1980s, which wrongly concluded that eggs were a risky food to eat regularly. Egg consumption only recently started to increase. Trans fats were originally invented as a “better” fat and became a common ingredient in processed foods. Years later, trans fats were found to significantly increase heart-health risks leading the FDA to ban them in 2020. 

Despite the DGAC’s efforts to reduce meat consumption in favor of a plant-based diet, cow milk is another matter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the federal school milk program, bans milk alternatives in schools. This leaves many consumers confused and asking why a plant-based diet is good when it comes to choosing tofu over steak, but it isn’t good when choosing soy milk over cow milk.

C. Truth! The government provides general one-size-fits-all recommendations that don’t account for differences, but every body is different and has specific dietary needs and vitamin deficiencies. These particularities are entirely dependent on both genetics and lifestyle. Because of this, proper alcohol and red meat consumption will vary from person to person. For example, it is not a serious public health concern for a healthy adult to have multiple drinks at an event or the occasional glass of wine with dinner.  

Bottom Line: 

Suggesting the government can control health outcomes is simply folly and will ultimately fail to serve those who are vulnerable. While it would be nice for Americans to have some reliable advice, the human body is complicated, and genetics play a big role in health. The Dietary Guidelines simply can’t provide individualized instruction. Today, consumers can figure out the diet that’s best for them by using a variety of local and online sources. 

Read this month’s Policy Focus on United States Dietary Guidelines to learn more.