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The Physicians Committee’s Influence on the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate

In 1991, the Physicians Committee unveiled the New Four Food Groups, a healthful alternative to the USDA’s Eating Right Pyramid released a week later.

Four years later, the Physicians Committee and other leading medical experts urged the federal government to revamp the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) reported that vegetarian diets should be included in federal health policy.

In 1999, the Physicians Committee filed a lawsuit that argued that more than half of the DGAC members had financial ties to the meat, dairy, or egg industries. The following year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the USDA violated federal law by hiding conflicts of interest in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

In 2010, the Physicians Committee presented the Power Plate to the USDA, encouraging the USDA to use it as a healthful alternative to the food pyramid. In January 2011, the Physicians Committee brought the Power Plate to the White House. That May, the USDA unveiled its new MyPlate, which is strikingly similar to the Physicians Committee’s Power Plate, eliminating the meat group.

When the 2015 DGAC released its scientific report, which the USDA used to develop the Dietary Guidelines, it cited Physicians Committee research showing the benefits of a plant-based diet for high blood pressure and, for the first time, listed vegetarian diets as one of three healthful diet patterns. 

But the egg industry also influenced the report to state that cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” Following a Physicians Committee campaign including petitions, oral testimony, billboards, and threat of legal action, the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which were released in early 2016, rejected the egg industry’s efforts and strengthened recommendations for Americans to limit cholesterol consumption. The Physicians Committee ultimately filed a lawsuit against the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that the government had allowed the food industry and financial inducements to dictate the DGAC's recommendations on cholesterol.  

In 2019 and 2020, Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians testified before the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, urging it to recommend that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans ditch the dairy and keep out low-carbohydrate diets. The Guidelines are expected to be released in 2021.