Historical Events

Hegsted’s and Foreman’s role to figure out how to implement the Dietary Goals.

It was Hegsted’s and Foreman’s role to figure out how to implement the Dietary Goals. And this task required at the very least some imagination, because by September 1978, the only thing USDA staffers had published on the subject was a suggested menu of thirteen slices of bread each day in order to meet the report’s recommended amount of carbohydrates. Could no one even come up with some palatable menu suggestions, asked a dietician quoted in the Washington Post.

Well, no, because although Congress had decided upon the components of a healthy diet, scientists were still quarreling over the basic evidence supporting those choices. Hegsted tried to put together an authoritative report on the matter at the USDA, but his effort fell apart amid bureaucratic infighting. Meanwhile, the esteemed American Society for Nutrition, which was also concerned about the need for a stronger scientific consensus before moving ahead with advice for the entire American population, had set up a formal task force to take another look at the diet and disease data and evaluate their strength. Hegsted decided to let his USDA recommendation be guided by the work of that task force. After all, the USDA’s efforts could only be made more credible by having expert support, since it remained true that no group of nutrition scientists other than the AHA nutrition committee (dominated by Keys and Stamler) had ever formally been convened to review the evidence on diet and disease to date. Hegsted knew that he was “taking a big chance . . . since Pete Ahrens of Rockefeller University was co-chairing the committee and was known to oppose general dietary recommendations.” Yet despite that risk, Hegsted agreed to abide by the panel’s decision.

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