Mixing Sensation with Science in Dietary Guidelines

As we’re coming down the home stretch toward finalizing 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the British Medical Journal is again mixing sensation with science by publishing a journalist’s analysis of the recommended guidelines. Unfortunately, it’s looking like BMJ followed neither scientific standards for peer review nor journalistic standards for error checking.

The journalist who authored the BMJ “feature,” Nina Teicholz, is selling a book that takes issue with dietary recommendations regarding dietary fats and promotes butter, cheese, and meat consumption. Ironically, her BMJ article makes a point to criticize potential conflicts of interest in the report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). She seems unaware of her own. The BMJ made no mention of her book in her disclosures until it was challenged on the subject.

Tabloid medical reporting is increasingly becoming the domain of BMJ. Earlier this year, BMJ published four articles that relied in large part on ad hominem reasoning and innuendo to suggest that leading nutrition experts have been corrupted by the sugar industry. This continues what one health communications expert has described as “a long series of mistakes by both the BMJ and The Lancet that generated headlines at first and embarrassment later.”

In a recent commentary published by the Journal of the American Medical Association,  Anne Cappola and Garret FitzGerald suggest that “the prospect of fame may be even more seductive than fortune.” They make the point that this is an important source of bias.

Sensationalism such as Teicholz and the BMJ are churning out might bring them notoriety, but they are bringing only bias and confusion to important scientific questions about nutrition.

Click here to read the report in the BMJ, here to read the response from the chair of the DGAC, and here to read more from MedPage Today.

Tabloid, photograph © Pedro Ribeiro Simões / flickr

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September 29, 2015

6 Responses to “Mixing Sensation with Science in Dietary Guidelines”

  1. September 29, 2015 at 5:41 pm, George Henderson said:

    What is the point of this?
    None of the complaints I read about Nina Teicholz’s BMJ investigation of the DGAC process give me the impression that the writer has read all of Ms Teicholz’s report or is familiar with the material being addressed. I have and it looks to me as if she has done a diligent job.
    The DGAC report fails to consider important evidence on saturated fat and fails to apply the same standards to carbohydrates as to fats.
    The DGA, though designed for healthy Americans (probably the minority) influence the treatment of those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in manifestly unhealthy ways.
    The DGA guidelines have also been imposed on schoolchildren, prisoners, hospital patients and the mentally ill, and it is unlikely that the results have been beneficial.
    Other countries manage to be healthier with simpler, but more scientific, approaches to dietary matters.

    • September 30, 2015 at 4:31 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, George.

  2. September 29, 2015 at 11:43 pm, Brian Edwards said:

    As I look at your colorful sign with tabloid written on it, I wonder if you felt it might be somewhat sensational? or I guess you were illustrating your feelings about Nina Teicholz?
    I am much more interested in the science of this changing field. I researched two of the critical articles in detail and I did not find they had a great deal of merit. I am a Diplomate in NLA and Board eligible for the American Obesity Boards. I have been following the sea change for some time. “Delete Meat from list of healthy foods” is different from completely deleting meat. Not allowing trials that deal with Diabetics would eliminate Lyon as patients had heart disease and PREDIMED as they had Metabolic syndrome.

    • September 30, 2015 at 4:45 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Brian. You’re right. The photograph does convey something about sensationalism, which is the subject of the post. It’s also an interesting image.

  3. October 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm, Valerie said:

    “Unfortunately, it’s looking like BMJ followed neither scientific standards for peer review nor journalistic standards for error checking.”

    What were the errors in the BMJ article?

    • October 10, 2015 at 1:47 pm, Ted said:

      The factual errors are outlined here. In addition, BMJ failed to disclose the author’s financial conflicts until some time after publication, only after prompting from outside experts.