Nutrition Wars

In the thirty years prior to 1977, as one health policy historian put it, "nutrition is the most politically charged area of science I've ever seen." The Food and Drug Administration, was only concerned that food should be "safe to eat." The main focus of the FDA was in preventing false claims on food labels.

After 1968, the issue of hunger in America became politically important. How do the poor get enough calories? The price of food was rising, and the food stamp program was inadequate. At the same time, obesity was also evident as malnutrition of a different kind. The debate was focused on too few calories or too many calories and not in the type and quality of human food.

In 1977 Senator McGovern, himself, was very concerned that the American diet rich in red meat and saturated fats and cholesterol was causing heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some forms of cancer. McGovern had lost weight following the dietary ideas of Nathan Pritikin. Pritikin favoured a diet that was almost totally vegan, a low-fat diet, where about 80% of the energy was coming from carbohydrates.

McGovern himself negotiated with the meat producers, significantly altering the recommendation of red meat in their favour.

"Dietary Goals for Americans," was issued in February, 1980. This proposal was eagerly accepted, by doctors, by heart foundations, by nutritionist's and by diabetes associations. The objective now was to get the American public (and the world) to follow the recommendations.

The Dietary Goals are controlled by the US Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

George McGovern's Heart Healthy Diet


Senator George McGovern wanted to be President of the USA. He failed in that quest. His Heart Healthy Diet for the American people was to be his legacy.

The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Need.

The Senate Committee modified the American Heart Association Diet. McGovern claimed that his objective was "a healthy population." Prof. Jean Mayer and Dr Mark Hegsted, of Harvard University, influenced the writing of Nick Mottern, an employee in McGovern's office, a journalist by profession, who carried the prime responsibility for writing the report.

Committee member Senator Charles Percy noted: "experts have found enough incriminating evidence to conclude that our super rich, fat-loaded, addictive and sugar-filled American diet, was sending many of us to early graves."

Jeremiah Stamler, an epidemiologist, was perhaps the leading proponent of the diet-lipid-heart hypothesis. At this time his MRFIT study was still in it's "successful" phase. Stamler was strongly supported by other epidemiologists and by nutritionists. Medical "experts" who were not biochemists or physiologists were supportive. One survey of "doctors" revealed that almost 92% agreed that a "moderate change in diet" to reduce heart disease risk was appropriate.

Firmly opposed were people like George V. Mann, and E.H. "Pete" Ahrens. Ahrens stood so strongly against the proposed recommendations forcing the Senate Committee to agree that the "scientific proof is not there yet."

Dietary Goals for Americans

The final proposal usually called "The McGovern Report" was biased towards vegetarian diets, highly political, designed to reduce heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some cancers. But a major political objective was to support the American farmer and the food industry.

Because poverty and hunger is a real political issue, it was also important to recommend food that was affordable, and carbohydrates are the cheapest source of calories available.

Nick Mottern resigned, because McGovern in negotiation with the National Live Stock and Meat Board, changed the recommendation regarding the place of red meat in the diet.