USDA's Topics for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Committee Exclude Underlying Catalysts for Lifestyle Disease

September 11, 2019

Predetermined topics to be discussed by the 2020 dietary guidelines committee failed to mention risks correlated to red meat, processed foods, and appropriate sodium intake, which contribute to the impending epidemic of lifestyle diseases.

Predetermined topics to be addressed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and HHS committee for the 2020 dietary guidelines ignore studies relating red meat, processed foods, and sodium intake to adverse health risks, indicating high influence from the meat industry, among others.

An epidemic of lifestyle diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity, and type 2 diabetes have continued to rise in the United States. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has noted that poor diet served as the number 1 cause of ill health in the United States, causing 678,000 deaths annually.

Red Meat, Processed Food, and Sodium Risk

The association between beef consumption and adverse health effects have been widely covered. A study published in June by BMJ reported that increases of overall, processed, and unprocessed red meat intake was linked with significant mortality risks:1

  • Increases of at least half a serving of total red meat per day were associated with a 10% higher mortality risk (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.10; 95% CI, 1.04-1.17)
  • Increases of at least half a serving of processed red meat per day were associated with a 13% higher mortality risk (HR = 1.13; 95% CI, 1.04-1.23)
  • Increases of at least half a serving of unprocessed red meat per day were associated with a 9% higher mortality risk (HR = 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02-1.17)

The decision to leave the consumption of red and processed meat completely off of the 80 predetermined topics to be discussed is especially troubling considering this heightened mortality risk. In 2018, The United States packaged food and beverage supply was shown to overexpose Americans to ultra-processed and unhealthy products that are high in energy, saturated fat, sugar, and salt, according to a July study published in the journal Nutrients.2

In the study, researchers analyzed 230,256 products through the NOVA Food Classification System and found that 71% of products such as bread, snack foods, and sugary drinks were ultra-processed. Of these products, 86% classified as ultra-processed were attributed to the top 25 manufacturers by sales volume. As noted in the study’s press release, no regular surveillance or reporting on available grocery products are available to consumers, researchers, or policy makers. The inability to assess store-bought foods, which impacts 80% of Americans’ total calorie consumption, exposes high levels of sodium and sugar to the United States.

Reducing sodium intake from processed foods is an issue that the FDA has addressed in the past. The FDA proposed voluntary targets for the US food industry to reduce sodium in processed food, a move that was correlated to a possible prevention in 450,000 CVD cases and approximate health cost savings of $5.2 billion, according to a July study published in The Milbank Quarterly.3

While these targets would benefit Americans, Congress has temporarily blocked the FDA from implementing food industry targets for sodium reduction in processed foods, which can be related to the 10-year $16 billion cost to usher in these goals for the industry.

Understanding Exclusions

The health risks associated with red meat and processed food have been studied extensively. In fact, correlations between red meat consumption and certain types of cancer were mentioned by the committee overseeing the 2015 dietary guidelines but was subsequently excluded amid vehement backlash from the beef industry. The influence of major food industries is a major cause of concern as 13 of the 20 committee members who will contribute to the 2020 dietary guidelines recommendations have ties to industry, according to a Freedom of Information Act document obtained by CSPI that listed nominators for the committee members.

While topics relating beverage consumption and risk of obesity will continue progress toward ameliorating sugary drinks, the specificity needed to garner significant change is only being addressed through alcohol consumption, which includes topics associating its use with cancer, CVD, and all-cause mortality. As sugar-sweetened soda was linked with a greater risk of mortality, and a heightened chance of dying from Parkinson disease in overall soda consumption, further progress is warranted to ameliorate continued intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.


  1. Zheng Y, Li Y, Satija A, et al. Association of changes in red meat consumption with total and cause specific mortality among US women and men. [published online June 12, 2019]. BMJ. doi: 10.1136/bmj.I2110.
  2. Baldridge AS, Huffman MD, Taylor F, et al. The Healthfulness of the US Packaged Food and Beverage Supply. [published online July 18, 2019]. Nutrients. doi: 10.3390/nu11081704.
  3. Collins B, Kypridemos C, Pearson-Stuttard J, et al. FDA Sodium Reduction Targets and the Food Industry: Are There Incentives to Reformulate? [published online July 22, 2019]. Milbank Quarterly. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.12402.