Nothing Kills More Americans Than What They Eat

New Trump administration USDA guidelines are keeping in a long, depressing tradition of allowing lobbyists to dictate what we eat

Mark Bittman and Charlie Mitchell
Published in
6 min readSep 6, 2019


Photo by Kevin Curtis/Science Photo Library for Getty Images

Last week’s alarming (and excellent) WaPo piece by Laura Reiley — “How the Trump administration limited the scope of the USDA’s 2020 dietary guidelines” — exposes another example of its abuse of science and “truth” to boost profits for big business at the expense of everyone else. No one is surprised when Trump and cronies make things worse; but the really depressing part of this story is that misrepresenting the advice of dietary experts isn’t at all unique to this administration.

Big Food and its allies have long influenced our government’s dietary advice to expand sales and profits, and that’s compounded the public health problems that result from the typical American diet. As it happens, diet causes more deaths in America than literally anything else, and our lifespans are declining as a result.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, introduced in 1980 as the product of a special Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, are the U.S. government’s official advice on how we should eat to be healthy. Since then, they’ve been revised and re-published every five years, informed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, comprising scientists under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. The guidelines drive the nutrition considerations of government food purchasing and other food programs, some $100 billion in food commerce every year.

From the very beginning, the guidelines were stained by corruption. Some of the experts — sometimes the majority of them — had ties to the industry, and would never vote for recommendations that would curtail its power to sell whatever it wanted. But that’s not the whole story.

When it was established in 1968, the Select Committee itself had the mission of addressing the issue of hunger in America, which had gained attention in the ’60s. But the committee was quickly forced to acknowledge that death from heart disease-related illness was becoming an epidemic, and that diet was at least in part responsible.