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Wednesday 15 April 2015
Jason Fung: Follow the research money: why some doctors betray patients’ trust on diet
You expect Big Food to spin you a story that has nothing to do with truth about the health benefits – or lack thereof – of its products. It is in the business of making profits, not making you healthy. You don’t expect doctors to collude with Big Food in spinning yarns. Yet that’s what many medical doctors often do by accepting sponsorship from Big Food for research. Among experts who have documented the results of the medical profession’s cosy relationships with the food industry is Dr Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. One of her most well-known quotes on the subject is that ‘sponsorship perverts science’.
And in 2013, WHO Director General Margaret Chan said the food and drink industry’s involvement in public health policy was ‘dangerous’ and urged governments to put public health before business. Little has changed. Here, Canadian nephrologist Dr Jason Fung takes an even more devastating look at how doctors, whether by default or design, have betrayed their patients’ trust. In doing so, Fung says, doctors have helped to make sponsorship and research into an ‘insidious form of advertising’. Once again, it’s a case of ‘follow the money’, and it doesn’t just apply to doctors in north America, but across the globe. – Marika Sboros
By Jason Fung*
A clip (British interventional cardiologist) Dr Aseem Malhotra showed at the recent low-carb, high-fat summit in Cape Town, reminded me of one of the great truths of our time: you cannot be betrayed by those whom you do not trust.
While we often blame Big Food for obesity, we never really trusted them, so cannot really be betrayed.
But we have been betrayed. By whom? The story is even worse then you suspect.
Big Food wants to make more money. That’s no secret. They have created an entirely new category of food, called “snack food”, and promoted it relentlessly. They advertise on TV, print, radio and Internet.
But there is an even more insidious form of advertising called sponsorship and research. Big Food sponsors large organisations such as the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Coca Cola General Mills, Kellogg Company and Pepsi are found among its “Premier” sponsors. At its annual meeting, a sponsor could hold “nutritional symposia”.
In 2014, for example, the Coca Cola Company would teach dieticians about “Coaching Your Clients Toward Lasting Weight Loss”. The $50,000 Gold Sponsorship allowed the company to spread the message that sugar is not harmful to children. Thanks, Coca Cola.
Michele Simon, in her scathing report And Now a Word from our Sponsors uncovers how corporate giants such as Coca Cola and McDonalds “educate” health professionals.
Food companies paid $7,500 for one to nine products, but there was a volume discount for more than 25 products. Exclusive deals were, of course, more expensive. In 2009, such nutritional standouts as Cocoa Puffs and Frosted Mini-Wheats were still on the Heart Check list.
In the US, the 2013 Dallas Heart Walk organised by the AHA featured Frito-Lay as a prominent sponsor. The Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada was no better. As noted on Dr Yoni Freedhoff’s weightymatters blog , a bottle of grape juice proudly bearing the Health Check contained 10 teaspoons of sugar. The fact that these food were pure sugar seemed not to bother anybody.
Key opinion leaders
The researchers and academic physicians were not to be ignored either. These were key opinion leaders in the medical community.
In 2013, the authors of a prominent article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitledMyths, Presumptions and Facts about Obesity, write that “Diets (ie, reduced energy intake) very effectively reduce weight, but trying to go on a diet or recommending that someone go on a diet generally does not work well in the long-term”.
Funny. How can a diet be effective, but generally not work? Isn’t that the very definition ofineffective?
Also, the authors declare plainly that doctors should not even recommend diets. Forget about eating a whole, unrefined, natural foods diet, reducing added sugars and refined starches such as white bread. Instead, the recommended treatments for obesity included meal replacement bars/ shakes, drugs and surgery. That’s certainly odd. Obesity is a dietary disease and requires a dietary cure. Instead, the authors favour meal replacements – among the last things I would ever recommend.