A report from the National Obesity Forum is trying to get us to put butter, cheese and beef back on the menu, but government experts and scientists are having none of it.
A report from the National Obesity Forum is trying to get us to put butter, cheese and beef back on the menu, but government experts and scientists are having none of it. The report from industry-funded charity the National Obesity Forum, says avoiding butter, cream, cheese and other fatty foods is actually fueling the obesity epidemic. They say official advice on low-fat diets and cholesterol is wrong and describe calorie counting as a red herring. They accuse government health bodies of colluding with food industry.
It’s a classic trick, accuse someone else of what you are doing! The National Obesity Forum is supported by the British Meat Nutrition Education Services, pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Roche Products and weight loss business LighterLife UK who market a ‘nutritionally complete Very Low Calorie Diet’. Hang on – isn’t calorie-counting a red herring? Their trustees are a group of smart young medics who would not look out of place in the City, except perhaps for Dr Zoe Williams, better known to some as Amazon from the TV show Gladiators.
Earlier this year Public Health England amended its Eatwell Guide to include more carbohydrate, more fruit and veg and less fat and animal foods. Like a spurned lover, the pro-fat lobby (linked to the meat industry) is seeking revenge. One of the report’s authors, Dr Aseem Malhotra also known as ‘Dr Lard of the UK’, described the new Eatwell Guide as a metabolic timebomb. He says: “We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat; fat is your friend.”
Public Health England says the National Obesity Forum’s report is irresponsible and misleading. Professor Simon Capewell, from the Faculty of Public Health, says: “We fully support Public Health England’s new guidance on a healthy diet. Their advice reflects evidence-based science that we can all trust. It was not influenced by industry. By contrast, the report from the National Obesity Forum is not peer reviewed. Furthermore, it does not it indicate who wrote it or how it was funded. That is worrying.”
Professor Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford, condemned the report as non-rigorous and irresponsible. Professor Jebb questioned the National Obesity Forum’s motives after accusing it of accepting funding from the pharmaceutical industry.
Cholesterol rates in the UK are among the highest in the world. High levels are caused by saturated fat from meat, sausages, bacon, pies, cakes, biscuits, cheese and cream. The government recommends eating less of these and more foods containing unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, plant-based oils and spreads.
The pro-fat lobby try to convince us that saturated fat is not bad for you and may even be beneficial. A limited number of flawed studies, claiming saturated fat may not be bad for you, have received plenty of media attention. This has led to much confusion.
A wealth evidence supports the case that saturated fat is bad for health. All major health organisations (World Health Organisation, American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, British Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, British Heart Foundation, World Heart Federation, Public Health England, US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority) agree that saturated fat is a risk factor for heart disease.
The National Obesity Forum is out on a limb on this one along with the pro-fat US loony tunes organisation the Weston A Price Foundation who share similar outlandish views and are funded by the farming industry. The pro-fat and animal farming lobbies have their sights fixed on sugar as the villain of the piece. It may well be that focusing on saturated fat as the primary dietary villain for heart disease has distracted from the risks posed by sugar, but replacing one villain with another is not helpful.
We’ve been here before. In 2015, a study published in the online journal Open Heart suggested UK dietary guidelines were based on shaky evidence. This led to sensationalist and misleading headlines such as “Butter ISN'T bad for you after all” and “Food fat warnings should not have been introduced”.
This study was also slammed by experts; Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Understanding the true relationship between diet and our health is not simple. Unlike drug trials, studies on diet and disease are difficult to conduct. It would be all but impossible to carry out a research trial where you controlled the diets of thousands of people over many years. That’s why guidance in the UK is based on a consensus of the evidence available…” Professor Christine Williams, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Reading, said: “The claim that guidelines on dietary fat introduced in the 1970s and 80s were not based on good scientific evidence is misguided and potentially dangerous”.
The study’s authors declared no conflicts of interest but lead author and pro-fat campaigner Zoë Harcombe runs a commercial diet club which promotes “eating real food” (ie meat, eggs and butter). Harcombe has advised individuals to “ignore public health advice” in a presentation she wrote for the Weston A Price Foundation.
A month after publication of the Open Heart study, Pascal Meier, Editor-in-Chief of Open Heart, issued the following statement: “Following comments from readers, and post-publication discussions within our editorial team, the authors of this paper were asked to update their competing interest statement. The potential competing interests relate to one of the authors of the article, Mrs Harcombe, who has previously published books on diet and nutrition, and is also a co-director of a company that gives dietary advice (The Harcombe Diet Co.) and co-director of a publishing company (Columbus Publishing) that publishes books on diet and nutrition.”
Meier said “In this case, Open Heart feels that the books and companies with which Mrs Harcombe has been involved should have been declared. From our point of view, a competing interest exists when professional judgement concerning a primary interest (such as validity of research) could potentially be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain)”.
The British Medical Journal published a study the same year questioning US dietary guidelines. The feature was written by journalist and author Nina Teicholz who has written a book called The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. In this study Teicholz suggested there is no link between saturated fat and heart disease. Again, a month following publication, the following correction was issued:
“This Feature by Nina Teicholz stated that when the guidelines advisory committee started its work in 2012 there had been several prominent papers, including a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic), that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease. This statement did not aptly reflect the findings of the more authoritative of these reviews, by Hooper et al., which found that saturated fats had an effect on cardiovascular events but failed to confirm an effect on cardiovascular mortality.”
In an open letter to the British Medical Journal, David Katz, associate Professor of Public Health Practice at Yale University School of Medicine, said: “The notion that the opinion of one journalist with a book to sell is in any way a suitable counterweight to the conclusions of a diverse, multidisciplinary, independent group of scientists who reviewed evidence for the better part of two years and relied upon knowledge and judgment cultivated over decades of relevant work – is nearly surreal”. Déjà vu?
This seems to be a yearly event. In 2014, the headlines declared "Saturated fat 'ISN'T bad for your heart'" following the publication of another flawed study sending out the message that it is perfectly safe to gorge on butter, cheese and meat. Scientists pointed out this study got the numbers wrong in their analysis and ignored relevant studies. Professor Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said: “…this meta-analysis contains multiple serious errors and omissions, the study conclusions are misleading and should be disregarded.”
It is well-established that saturated fat drives up cholesterol levels which can build up in the arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. There is robust scientific evidence showing that vegetarians and vegans have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and a lower risk of diabetes than meat-eaters. Still these stories pervade; they make better headlines than ‘Broccoli helps combat heart disease’. Unfortunately the pro-fat crusade will continue because the meat and dairy industry has money and influence. However, thankfully the government will not be swayed on this and the scientific community is well-prepared to stand their ground.
For information on what foods can help you avoid and/or reverse heart disease visit: www.vivahealth.org.uk