(Aug. 15) Thirteen members of a recently appointed committee could up the ante for 5 a Day.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Aug. 11 designated 13 professionals to serve on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

The group is responsible for reviewing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans report, published every five years.

The advisory committee will meet three times before issuing a final report to the guidelines committee by summer 2004. The report could recommend an increased number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables in the diets of Americans.

While the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA revise dietary guidelines, the USDA is in the beginning stages of reassessing the Food Guide Pyramid.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president of Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, had been nominated for the diet advisory committee but was not selected. Pivonka, a registered dietician, has a doctorate in food and nutrition from Kansas State University, Manhattan.

She said two of the committee members — Baylor University researcher Theresa Nicklas and Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — were among the number nominated by PBH for the committee. What’s more, she said several others have solid backgrounds in nutrition studies, including New York obesity research Xavier Pi-Sunyer and Pennsylvania State University researcher Penny Kris-Etherton.

Pivonka said she is looking forward to providing input to the committee, despite being overlooked for an appointment.

“We are free and clear to provide information to the committee,” she said.

She said a number of committee members apparently bring a strong preventive health perspective to the committee.

Amy Lanou, nutrition director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that favors vegetarianism, said she hoped the USDA and HHS paid close attention to industry ties of committee members.

The group had sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1999 over disclosure of financial conflicts of interest among members of the last diet advisory committee. The group alleged that six of the then 11-member Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had financial ties to the meat, dairy or egg industries that may have made it more likely that what the group called unhealthy foods would remain in the government’s diet plan.

“We’re hoping they put together a more balanced and less potentially biased committee than the last committee,” she said.

Lanou said her organization believes the dietary guidelines do not fully reflect the body of scientific data that clearly would have Americans focus their diets on plant-based foods.

“The current guidelines don’t go far enough in terms of helping people in the U.S. choose a diet to help prevent obesity and diabetes,” she said.

Lanou said she has not had time to examine the list of newly appointed committee members. She noted government regulations do not prohibit conflicts of interest, but they require the committee has to be put together in a way that balances the conflicts of interest.