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  1. News Release

  2. Dec 29, 2020

Physicians Committee Faults New Dietary Guidelines for Racial Bias, Calls for Guidelines To Be Redrafted

WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture retract the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released on Dec. 29, 2020. The document, which aims to guide food choices for the next five years, is likely to maintain high cancer rates in Americans, especially Black Americans.

“Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released the Guidelines too hastily. They need to be pulled back and redrafted,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “The Guidelines maintain a racially tinged promotion of dairy products, which are far less healthful than other calcium sources and have been shown to increase the risk of prostate and breast cancer, both of which are particularly deadly in the Black community, as well as an inappropriate emphasis on meat, rather than healthier foods.” 

Breast cancer death rates are 40% higher among Black women, compared with white women. Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer than other men and twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than other men.

The new guidelines continue to recommend three servings of dairy a day. Research shows that this can increase breast cancer risk by up to 80% and risk of death from prostate cancer by 141%. 

Research funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Cancer Research Fund, found that women who consumed 1 cup of cow’s milk per day had a 50% increased chance for breast cancer. When asked about the milk recommendations in the guidelines, the lead author of the study said that “people should view that recommendation with caution.”

High intakes of dairy products including whole and low-fat milk and cheese increase the risk for prostate cancer, according to a 2015 meta-analysis. Another study found that those who consumed three or more servings of dairy products a day had a 141% higher risk for death due to prostate cancer compared to those who consumed less than one serving. Both high- and low-fat dairy products were associated with increased mortality.

The new guidelines follow the meat-industry-friendly practice of giving “protein” its own food group, despite the fact that protein is a nutrient, not a food. And while beans, grains, and other healthful foods provide abundant protein, the guidelines continue to list meat as favored sources. 

In 2018, the American Medical Association passed a resolution recognizing that lactose intolerance is common among many Americans, especially Black Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, and recommending that the guidelines indicate that “meat and dairy products are optional.”

In August 2020, the Physicians Committee submitted a letter to the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, signed by nearly 500 health care professionals, arguing that the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee “preserves racially biased dairy-promoting guidelines, despite clear contributions to health problems that take a disproportionate toll in Black Americans and other demographic groups.” 

The Physicians Committee is calling on the USDA to rework the guidelines, focusing on three things: 

  1. Delete dairy promotions, since dairy products increase cancer risk, while nondairy calcium sources help prevent cancer. 
  2. Avoid equating “protein” with meat, as there are abundant sources of protein without meat’s fat and cholesterol. 
  3. Increase emphasis on plant-based foods, which are associated with reduced risk of obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. 

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Michael Keevican



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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