Can industry sponsorship taint health advice?

A commenter on this website yesterday made me aware of a Q and A session hosted by website netmums featuring nutritionist Fiona Hunter and sponsored by the bread manufacturer Warburton. If you’re a reasonably regular follower of this blog then you may know that I have featured Warburtons twice in recent times. First of all, this company paid the British Nutrition Foundation for an (I think) utterly biased account of the value of bread in the diet (see here and here for more on this). Then I find Warbutons also conducted a survey which makes out we’re generally wildly ignorant of appropriate sources of fibre in the diet. Not that it matters that much, because as I point out here, the sort of fibre mainly found in wholemeal and other breads (insoluble fibre) has dubious health benefits anyway.

Anyway, alerted by the commenter to the Warburton-sponsored Q and A I went to have a look (you can find it here). I came across this question and answer which I feel represents how corporate interests can get in the way of good dietary advice.

You can see a mother has written that her14-year-old daughter has irritable bowel syndrome and that symptoms appear to be triggered by bread and pasta. The most obvious explanation here is that the girl, at the very least, is intolerant to wheat. It’s possible even that she has coeliac disease (sensitivity to gluten). Fiona Hunter, however, writes that:

According to a British Nutrition Foundation report, there is no evidence to suggest that bread causes bloating or any other symptom of gastrointestinal discomfort in healthy consumers.

The underlying message here appears to be that bread is not the problem. The real problem here, as I see it, is that the mother has already told Fiona Hunter that bread is a problem (along with pasta), and she appears to have ignored this crucial piece of information and in fact attempted to steer away from it.

Fiona Hunter offers a report from the British Nutrition Foundation to allay our fears about the potential for bread to cause gastrointestinal symptoms. However, I personally would not rely on the British Nutrition Foundation for objective and balanced advice on bread. After all, it was this organisation that took money from Warburtons and produce what I believe to be an utterly biased piece of ‘research’ on the importance of bread, while failing to highlight the very real potential health issues associated with eating this food (such as its potential in coeliac disease and its very blood sugar-disruptive nature).

At the end of the day, my impression is that Fiona Hunter has not been totally upfront and honest about the fact that bread is probably a wholly inappropriate food for this girl. No mention is made of wheat or gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease. Could Fiona Hunter’s advice be in any way biased by the fact that her (I assume) sponsor makes bread? You decide.

14 Responses to Can industry sponsorship taint health advice?

  1. Andrew Rynne 19 October 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Good man John. You are a man after my own heart! Re exercise motivation. Advise people to consider getting a dog. If you have a dog you have to exercise him/her unless you are heartless in which case you should not have a dog in the first place.

  2. John Walker 19 October 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Andrew… I agree with you, but I don’t have a dog, because I would have to feed him/her; this would mean I couldn’t afford my weekly treat of fillet steak from grass fed beef… Maybe I am heartless then? Lol!
    All the same, I would love to own a dog again.

  3. Megan 19 October 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    I read an article online in the Daily Scaremonger about the fearful dangers of believing that dirt – as far as I am concerned an essential part of our health armoury – is good for us. It’s actually (who knew?) brimming with killer bacteria. Frequent hand washing is the only way to ensure the survival of the species said Professor Never Tainted by Cash whose research was funded, in the small print, by Initial, owners of the filthiest roller towels in Britain. No bias there then!

  4. Barry Danser 19 October 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    To suggest that doctors have the answer to IBS is ridiculous . My Doctor (who told me to look at this blog) admitted they don’t have the answers and to experiment with my food intake. Having had IBS I know that its not an exact science. I would never tell anybody with IBS that wheat and pasta are not a problem . Even if I did I would then say that if you are going to have bread I would insist they found chemical and preservative free ones. My friend in Korea was so shocked 20 years ago when he came to the UK for the first time. He said to me cut out bread immediately you can’t live on that stuff. Not a nutritionist but he obviously had a point!

  5. Diane Smith 19 October 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    I have now read the whole thread of Q & A’s with Fiona Hunter and the whole thing reads just like one big plug for the wonders of the amazing fibre providing Warburtons bread eating.

  6. Anna 20 October 2012 at 12:00 am #

    I find this shocking. But I suppose you have to be a skeptic. Often I find myself feeling sorry for the “public at large” who are taken in by the endless food industry lies and scams. But this is a weird feeling. I mean, what makes me “smarter” or more perceptive than the average person being harmed by bogus nutritional advice?

  7. Sarah 20 October 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Absolutely it taints advice. This was published in the Daily Mail today

  8. David Foggin 20 October 2012 at 10:20 am #

    How about this from – nutritionists employed by Tesco who still quote unsubstantiated Lipid Hypothesis outcomes? Derren Brown must have been teaching them the art of misdirection!
    Quote from TESCO DIET.COM latest auto-email to their subscribers:

    The skinny on fats

    We know that following a low fat diet is healthy, but that’s only part of the story. They are essential and provide essential fatty acids, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food. They are involved in a whole range of processes, including controlling inflammation, blood clotting and brain development. Healthy skin and hair are maintained by fat and it helps to absorb and move the vitamins A, D, E and K in the blood stream.

    Fat however is higher providing 9 calories per gram, more than twice the number provided by carbohydrates or protein. They also serve to store the body’s extra calories, which helps to insulate the body, but in excess leads to weight gain. A food with more than 30% of the calories from fat, is categorised as a high fat food.

    Fats in food
    Saturated fats
    The biggest dietary cause of high’bad cholesterol, LDL, and it is recommended to keep these fats to a minimum in your diet. A high saturated fat food is defined as on with greater than 10% of the calories from saturated fats and saturated fat should be limited to 10% of daily calories overall. These fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats. But be careful, they are also found in some vegetable oils, specifically coconut and palm oils.

    Unsaturated fats
    Unsaturated fats are thought to help lower blood cholesterol if used in place of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be split into monounsaturated fats, such as olive & rapeseed oil and polyunsaturated fats, found in fish, sunflower oil and vegetable oils. Although better than saturated, they contain the same calories, so these still need to limited in the diet.

    Trans fats
    These fats are formed when fats are hydrogenised & the liquid oil hardens and will be listed in product ingredients as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenating fats is a technique that artificially creates a saturated fat. They can increase bad LDL levels and lower good cholesterol, HDL, and therefore should be avoided as part of a healthy diet. Trans fats are found in fried foods, commercial baked goods, processed foods, and margarines.

  9. John B 20 October 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Surely there is a far more significant issue here: why with such a fantastic, World class, NHS does the mother – or anyone – need to write to a magazine, particularly on this issue since gluten and wheat intolerance are well know, easy to diagnose and easy to treat with diet?

  10. Chloe Brotheridge 22 October 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Surely it’s impossible to ignore the weight of anecdotal evidence in terms of eating bread and bloating. I see it all the time as a nutritionist!

    No mention either of the psychological factors involved with IBS ie. stress. Hypnotherapy is a hugely effective treatment for IBS as it can reduce stress and help people to feel more calm and relaxed.

    In terms of diet it seems like self experimentation is the way to go!

  11. heather m 22 October 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    a simple fix would be to avoid bread and pasta. ever since i have i’ve never felt better. can’t think why the mother hasn’t already figured that out for herself.

  12. Jill H 23 October 2012 at 2:02 am #

    @Heather m – because the mother is trying to do the best she can for her daughter. To make sense of all the conflicting advice she receives from maybe flawed science and nutrition ‘experts’. Official scientific opinion seems to be telling her that ‘there is no evidence to suggest that bread causes bloating ……’ etc. My mother made the move from butter (from pastured cows) to margarine because that was the nutritional wisdom of the day. Whoops – an introduction of trans fats to our diets and a very large increase of the omega-6s over, it would seem, the more healthful omega 3s. Traditional wisdom is getting lost. I think anyone who is, has been, a mum knows how difficult it can be. When my lads were little for a time they really enjoyed fruit yogurts until (and I cannot remember how it came to my attention) I realized that in each little pot there was the equivalent of maybe as much as SIX teaspoons of sugar. The makers of the yogurt never pointed that out to me in all the marketing of the ‘health benefits’ to children of their product.

  13. Diane Smith 30 October 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    I have just come across this ‘Healthy Eating’ leaflet produced by the NHS Scotland and I am in shock. The whole thing reads like a big campaign to get people to eat more bread. ‘Fruit and bread with every meal’. It also says in the leaflet that the Government is meeting with leaders of the Food Industry—manufacturers and retailers—to discuss what else they can do and to find out how quickly industry can make changes to their products to encourage healthy eating. It seriouslylooks to me like this advice has been influenced by bread manufacturors. Here is the leaflet if you want a look:

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