“If you’re a journalist who misrepresents science for the sake of a headline, a politician more interested in spin than evidence, or an advertiser who loves pictures of molecules in little white coats, then beware: your days are numbered.”
So says Dr. Ben Goldacre, physician and epidemiologist, whose new TEDTalk “Battling Bad Science” was released last week. It is a brilliant and enlightening critique of dodgy science and inaccurate reporting.
Those familiar with nutrition research know it is inherently flawed – short of keeping people on a metabolic unit and measuring their ins and outs for 30 years, it is a challenge to control for all of the potential confounding variables in research related to food, nutrients and eating (and physical activity too!). Perhaps that is why nutrition paradigms shift so dramatically and frustrate/confuse the public.
How can we better wage the “battle” against bad nutrition science? No Baloney presents a four-part series on The War on Spurious Science and how we, as clinicians and researchers, can promote evidence-based practice.
Part 1: Know and Promote the Experts.
Everyone eats so everyone is an expert! Dr. Goldacre highlights a common problem with nutrition experts in the media – many of these so-called “experts” have little to no legitimate nutrition education… but that doesn’t stop them from getting book deals and mass followings. Why is it that the public is unaware that they are buying into “contrived” credentials? Are we too complacent when it comes to spurious expertise? Unfortunately not unique to nutrition, physical activity and exercise experts also face similar challenges to legitimate authority. I can’t imagine the public allowing an unlicensed surgeon to perform gastric bypass, so why is proper credentialing a non-issue for nutrition and exercise?
Access to Registered Dietitians in the community is currently inadequate – family doctors report that only 16% of their patients have access to (health care-covered) dietitian services (1). While Primary Care Networks hope to alleviate this disparity, their effectiveness is yet to be established (2). As a result, many people are left to find fee-for-service nutrition counseling services; whether they choose a private practice Registered Dietitian or “nutrition consultant”, however, is unknown. Does the public know the difference?
Legitimate nutrition experts need to continue to actively advocate for improved public perception of who is and who is not a go-to nutrition authority – hint: it shouldn’t be a cat! Whether this takes the form of lobbying for the legal protection of the term “nutritionist” to reduce public confusion re: credentials, or working to create a distinct subset of nutrition practice akin to the RN-LPN system, promoting credible and reliable nutrition expertise is a crucial and ongoing part of our practice.
- Rosser WW. Nutritional advice in Canadian family practice. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 77:1011S-1015S.
- Flesher M, Kinloch K, Grenon E, Coleman J. Access to dietitians in primary health care. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2011; 72:32-6.