US researchers have criticized the US government's dietary guidelines, insisting that they might have inadvertently fuelled America's rising tide of obesity and caused more harm than good.
Dr. Paul R Marantz and his colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine suggest that the government issued these recommendations based on limited scientific data and assumed that they would not be harmful, but the evidence now suggests otherwise.
They have warned that without proper studies, such guidelines might be harmful.
"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," Marantz said
"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," he added.
The researchers argue that if guidelines can alter behaviour, such alteration could have positive or negative effects.
They mentioned how, in 2000, the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee suggested that the recommendation to lower fat, advised in the 1995 guidelines, had perhaps been ill advised and might actually have some potential harm.
The committee noted concern that "the previous priority given to a 'low-fat intake' may lead people to believe that, as long as fat intake is low, the diet will be entirely healthful. This belief could engender an over consumption of total calories in the form of carbohydrates, resulting in the adverse metabolic consequences of high carbohydrate diets."
They also noted "an increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States has corresponded roughly with an absolute increase in carbohydrate consumption."
The researchers present data that support these trends; however, they are careful to note that this temporal association does not prove causation.
Instead, Marantz said, "it raises the possibility of a net harmful effect of seemingly innocuous dietary advice. These dietary recommendations did not necessarily cause harm, but there is a realistic possibility that they may have."
Marantz added, "As doctors, our first call is to do no harm. That's 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."
The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.