New Dietary Guidelines Views Men and Women the Same

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Legitimate concerns about coronavirus have quieted the normally very active world of alarmists who regularly launch their arsenal of warning shots about the things Americans enjoy—coffee, sugar, cocktails, certain foods and snacks. 

Yet, a pandemic isn’t going to stop the committed killjoys who serve on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), an independent advisory board made up of scientific and medical experts appointed by two federal agencies, to review the government’s nutrition guidance and push for more restrictions on consumer freedoms. 

It’s important to remember that this is the same government board that came up with the food pyramid that recommended you eat more carbohydrates, launched the Snackwells generation with their guidance that you avoid all fatty foods, and started the anti-cholesterol craze that nearly killed the America egg industry,  to then quietly issue a retraction 20 years later that simply said, “cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern.” Talk about masters of the understatement. (My father is still mad about his decades-long diet of egg-white omelets.)

Yet, in the recently issued 2020 recommendations, the DGAC seems more interested in gender equity than questionable nutrition information. For instance, on alcohol consumption, the DGAC changed the definition of moderate drinking for men, reducing it from two drinks per day to one. The recommendation for women stayed the same, also one drink per day.

You don’t have to be qualified to sit on the DGAC to realize this makes no sense. The Centers for Disease Control states that the average American male weighs 197 pounds and is 69 inches tall. The average American woman weighs 170 pounds and is 63.5 inches tall. As every college student learns early on, these differences matter when it comes to alcohol consumption, because the person’s size impacts alcohol’s physical and cognitive effects on the person drinking it.

But of course, not all Americans fit into those weight and height averages. Many weigh less, and thanks to the CDC’s constant crowing about obesity, public health officials, including those sitting on the DGAC, certainly know that many more Americans fall way above the average. 

So, again, you don’t need a medical degree to realize that a 105-pound woman will react differently to alcohol than a 250-pound man.  Yet, today, a major public health committee sees men and women as entirely without differences when it comes to having a drink. 

This isn’t new. The public health sector has a habit of ignoring the complexities of large populations in favor of the convenience of averages. Consider the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which reformed the school lunch program and used the Dietary Guidelines to impose an 850-calorie limit on cafeteria meals for kids. While this calorie allowance may seem generous for a young, small female or younger male students, the calorie cap created problems for larger high school boys and girls engaged in sports. The calorie allotment simply didn’t account for their activity level. 

Of course, the DGAC claims the new alcohol guidance is due to an uptick in drinking by men. Yet, this claim seems as dubious as their recommendations on cholesterol. According to a letter to the current DGAC members written by five Harvard medical professors, the studies DGAC used to make the recommendation for men’s alcohol consumption were “…limited, arbitrary, and unsystematic…” and were “…insufficient to warrant any meaningful changes to the 2015-2020 DGA that have served Americans well.”

And in a University of Georgia study on cognitive function and drinking, researcher Ruiyuan Zhang, MD, MS noted (emphasis mine) that, “low to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with better global cognition scores...”

Most people don’t stop to search online for the DGAC recommendations before imbibing on a Friday night. But plenty of nutrition decisions are made based on the dietary guidelines—from professional nutritionists who advise clients, to school nutrition officials signing off on school meals, to military personnel in charge of creating eating plans for our nation’s soldiers. 

That means, it’s important that the DGAC base their recommendations on solid scientific evidence, not trendy social causes or a desire for convenient, but inaccurate, one-size-fits all policy recommendations that do nothing to improve health. 

Julie Gunlock runs Independent Women's Forum's Center for Progress and Innovation. Gunlock is a resident of Arlington, Virginia. 

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