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Diet and Killer Diseases: The McGovern Committee Hearings, 1977
by David E. Henderson & Susan K. Henderson

Does fat cause heart disease?
Many trace the origin of the low fat diet craze to the Senate hearings of the McGovern Committee in 1977. This committee's report endorsed the idea that a reduction in dietary fat would reduce the incidence of heart disease and obesity. The press picked up this idea and the food industry ran with it. Soon, a wide range of "healthy" low and non-fat processed foods were produced. The ideas endorsed by the committee report are deeply ingrained in all aspects of dietary and medical advice, and continue to be taught to physicians and dieticians.

This game examines the scientific evidence available in 1977 by expanding the hearings to include a larger range of voices than were invited to the actual hearing. All students will examine scientific evidence at the time linking dietary fat to health. Senators in the game determine the nature of the report, while the media decide what to report to the public. The post-mortem provides time to consider recent scientific evidence that calls the underlying assumptions about the nature of cardiovascular disease and the role of dietary fat into question.

This is a Level 3 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.



20th Century, Contemporary History, Modern History

In a Few Words 
Food and nutrition, Public health, Correlation is not causation

History of Medicine and Health, History of Science and Technology, Political Science and Government, STEM

United States of America

Themes and Issues  
Public health, Science journalism, Political lobbying, Correlation and causation

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Lobbying 

Sample Class Titles
Food, Health, and Environment in History; STEM in Government Policy; Sustainable Agriculture; Science for non-majors 

Level 3 game (what's that mean?

Die rolls, Secret voting, Differentiated voting, Informal podium

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
Low chaos/raucousness in class;
Low demand on instructor 

Primary Source Highlights
Fat in the Diet and Mortality from Heart Disease: A Methodologic Note. (aka the 22 Country Study) by J. Yerushalmy and H. Hilleboe (1957)
Coronary Heart Disease in Seven Countries (aka the 7 Country Study) by A. Keys (1970)

Notable Roles

Mark Hegsted

Robert Atkins

Nathan Pritikin

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is designed to work in a wide variety of class sizes. While recommended for 6-36 students, instructors have had success using this in larger classes by doubling roles or expanding the journalists. 

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive.  This game is most often paired with Food Fight: Challenging the USDA Food Pyramid for a more extensive course on nutrition. 

Full details and guidance on how to use the game guidance are in the Instructor's Guide, found under Game Materials.

Class Time

This game is designed for relatively flexible use, and instructors can consolidate for a shorter or lab module, or expand as needed. For the full game, the game authors recommend 3 to 8 sessions (1-3 for setup, 1-3 for gameplay, 1-2 debrief sessions).

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include: traditional papers, research and thesis-driven writing, scientific writing, and journalism. Not all roles are required to give formal speeches. 

Read more about pairing this game...

When pairing this game with Challenging the Food Pyramid, experience suggests it is better to play the Food Pyramid game first since it presumes the results of the McGovern hearings, meaning you would play these two games in reverse chronological order. Doing so (playing Diet and the Killer Diseases second) allows students to examine their assumptions from Challenging the Food Pyramid. If played chronologically, students will tend to skew the results in the Food Pyramid game in an ahistorical manner.

If your class focuses on government process and congressional hearings, one might also consider pairing this game with Radio Days.

Additional guidance can be found in the Instructor's Guide, and questions can be directed to the game authors.


"This game is important for science majors and non-majors alike. It helps students see the importance of both the scientific relationships between data are presented (and how tempting and compelling correlative relationships can be), and how human relationships affect how the data gets presented."

"My students thoroughly enjoyed this game, even the ones who were skeptical. It fit easily into my class schedule, and it was easy to adapt for online use, which was nice. Best of all: the game authors made videos for set-up." 

"Students tend to view 'Science' as monolithic, especially as idioms like 'Follow The Science' enter public discourse. I want my students to understand how different interests frame popular understanding of health, diet, and nutrition. This game offers an opportunity for just that."


Reacting Consortium members can download all game materials. You'll be asked to sign in before downloading. If you are adopting this game for your class, fill out this permissions form. These materials were last updated in January 2020 (version 4.5).

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using Diet and Killer Diseases in Your Class!


All students need a Gamebook, which includes historical context, and summaries of essential scientific articles. Members can provide the Gamebook to students for free or at cost. 

Updated June 2023,.docx file.

Role Sheets and Placards

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. The name placards are helpful for in person play.

Updated June 2023,  .docx files.

Instructor's Manual and Handouts

The Instructor's Guide includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

Updated June 2023 .docx file.

Additional Resources 

Full scientific articles
Summaries of all primary articles are provided in the Gamebook. You can also provide students with the full articles: High Fat Papers, Low Fat Papers

Resources for Introduction and/or Debrief
Introductory Videos (made by game author David Henderson)
PowerPoint for Introduction / Set-up
PowerPoint for Debrief / Post-mortem
NPR piece on the McGovern Hearings
Collected articles and papers for Debrief / Post-mortem

If you have materials you would like to add to this website to be shared with other Reacting Instructors, please email us at reacting@barnard.edu.

Development for this game was made possible through funding from the National Science Foundation


David E. Henderson 

David Henderson is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Trinity College. He was one of the original users of the Reacting pedagogy, and is co-author of four published Reacting games, and many games under review. 

Susan K. Henderson

Susan Henderson was a Professor of Chemistry at Quinnipiac University, where she taught general chemistry, analytical chemistry and nutrition for non-science majors for over 35 years. She is co-author of three published games, and multiple games under review. 


Thank you for your interest in this game. Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


Food Pyramid Fight
Food Fight: Challenging the USDA Food Pyramid, 1991

Food or Famine
Food or Famine, 2002: The Debate over Genetically Modified Crops in Southern Africa

Physician-Assisted Suicide
Physician-Assisted Suicide: Autonomy, Ethics, Morality, and the End of Life 1976-2016


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