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Government Gives Bad Diet Advice

What's the Latest Development?

Steven Malanga traces the history of government nutrition guidelines from 1977—the first iteration of such government standards—to the present day, where First Lade Michele Obama has taken on childhood obesity as her primary cause. The first guidelines, which were pioneered by then-Senator George McGovern and which have set the tone ever since, were published before the first government studies on the role of fat and cholesterol in heart disease were even conducted, says Malanga. He argues that the government's advice to eat carbohydrates has been a public health disaster. 

What's the Big Idea?

Challenging conventional wisdom when it comes to eating healthily has proven extremely difficult. Despite clear advances in scientific knowledge concerning what constitutes a healthy diet, government policy remains largely unchanged. Still, its efforts to encourage the population to eat well are justified, just as it has successfully campaigned to stop millions of Americans from smoking. As for its latest efforts at shaping up ailing public health: "The U.S.D.A., again with uncertain scientific warrant, is now targeting sodium as a public-health menace. ... For the general population of healthy Americans, however, that advice may be pointless or, again, even harmful."

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