A member of the Biden Administration’s panel set to determine new dietary guidelines for Americans is receiving backlash for her comments on obesity.
Dr Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at Mass General Health in Boston, was appointed to the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which will develop new recommended eating habits for Americans over the coming years.
The appointment has received backlash as it comes only weeks after she downplayed the value of diet and exercise in weight loss in an interview with 60 Minutes at the start of the year.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) develop these guidelines every five years. Previous versions have been blamed for jumpstarting America’s obesity crisis.
Dr Fatima Cody Stanford (pictured), an obesity medicine physician at Mass General Health, said that obesity is more of a genetic condition than one caused by lifestyle factors during a 60 Minutes interview
The USDA unveiled the food pyramid in 1991 and has since been partially blamed for America’s sharp rise in obesity. Critics say it gives poor recommendations not based on science, and its high recommended levels of grains and starches helped cause many people to become overweight
Dr Cody’s appointment comes as the US remains one of the fattest countries in the world, according to a new report.
‘The number one cause of obesity is genetics,’ Dr Cody said.
‘That means if you are born to parents that have obesity, you have a 50 to 85percent likelihood of having the disease yourself. Even with optimal diet, exercise, sleep management, stress management.’
Dr Shauna Levy, a bariatric surgery expert at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, told DailyMail.com: ‘I think Dr Cody’s comment was an oversimplification of the cause of disease.
‘However, I also think that as a society we likely underestimate the role of genetics in causing obesity and over estimate the role diet/exercise plays in treating this disease.’
Dr Cody Stanford will be on a panel of 20 nutrition, obesity and weight loss experts from across the country included on the HHS and USDA panel.
The group will work on setting new dietary guidelines in the US starting in 2025. Every five years, new government nutrition guidelines are laid out.
‘The 2025 Committee will examine the relationship between diet and health across all life stages, and will use a health equity lens across its evidence review to ensure factors such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and culture are described and considered to the greatest extent possible,’ a USDA press release reads.
It continues that the panel has ‘substantial’ expertise in health equity, and that factor was considered when they were chosen.
This committee will use the guidelines by schools, hospitals and other facilities to set diet plans.
Nutritionists and dieticians around America are also likely to make recommendations to parents based on the decisions made by this panel.
These guidelines have come under fire in the past, though. In 1992, the USDA introduced the food pyramid.
It recommended six to 11 servings of starchy foods such as rice and bread each day, three to five servings of vegetables, two to four of fruit, two to three of meat and dairy and sparing use of fats, oils and sweets.
Some have pointed to this pyramid as the trigger point for America’s crisis, which now sees over 70 percent of the country overweight, and nearly half obese.
The pyramid has been widely panned for its focus on serving sizes instead of helping a person manage calorie levels, and for its recommendation against eating foods with fat – which could be a part of a healthy diet.
‘Well, this pyramid is really not compatible with good scientific evidence, and it was really out of date from the day it was printed in 1991,’ Dr Walter Willet, former chair of Harvard’s School of Public Health told PBS.
Dr Mark Hyman, an American wellness expert, wrote in 2016: ‘Here’s the truth: The Government recommendations released in 1980 promoted low-fat diets that have catapulted us into the worst epidemic of obesity and diabetes in history.’
He points to the large number of carbs recommended by the pyramid and says the body converts those carbs into sugar and fat in the body.
Dr Hyman also warns that highly processed refined carbs lead to inflammation in the body.
MyPlate has since replaced the pyramid, and has faced similar criticisms.
Obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index score of 40 or higher. It is calculated by comparing a person’s height to their weight.
Scientists have long known that a person’s weight is a matter of how many calories a person eats compared to what they burn.
How many calories a person burns each day is primarily based on their metabolism, which is the process the body uses to turn food into energy. A person with a high metabolism will use up more calories while resting throughout the day.
A lower-calorie diet, and increasing the number of calories burned each day through exercise, can help a person lose weight.
When a person eats excess calories, it is stored as fat or muscle on the body, causing them to gain weight.
How fast a person’s metabolism works is impacted by their genetic profile, age, amount of physical activity they get each day, and muscle-to-fat ratio.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that obesity is ‘rarely’ caused by inheritance patterns.
The most common gene linked to obesity, MC4R, is found in fewer than five percent of obese people, the CDC says.
‘In most obese people, no single genetic cause can be identified,’ the agency writes.
But Dr Christopher McGowan, a North Carolina-based obesity medicine specialist, told DailyMail.com that genetic factors could make it harder for an overweight person to shed the pounds.
‘In today’s increasingly obesogenic environment, those with a genetic propensity for weight gain are more prone to do so,’ he said.
‘Losing weight that has been gained becomes increasingly difficult due to the innate weight-promoting systems in the body. Ultimately, due to these underlying genetic factors, obesity represents a disorder of energy regulation.’
He does say that these genetic factors can be overcome by adapting a person’s lifestyle with diet and exercise.
Obesity has been linked to a multitude of deadly health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, liver disease and more.