Government health campaigns can do more harm than good when they ignore science

Smart Swaps imageThe UK government’s Department of Health is spending tax-payers money to promote dietary choices which science increasingly indicates may have no positive benefits – and may even be harmful for people who are trying to lose weight.

Called, ‘Smart Swaps’, the campaign is promoted through a website called Change for Life. It recommends six changes to your diet – including substituting half-fat or no-fat milk for whole milk, reduced fat cheese for regular cheese and table spreads for butter.

Ten years ago, this would have made sense. The early-stage research then available suggested that full-fat foods might have a link to cardiovascular disease.

But in 2014 we know better. An ever-increasing body of published, peer-reviewed science has made it clear that dairy fat has little or no link to cardiovascular disease. In fact, the evidence is stacking up that dairy might actually be good for your heart health. To take just one example, a study published late in 2013 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology of a 15-year study of thousands of men in France found that those with the highest consumption of dairy products had the lowest risk of heart disease – those who consumed milk had 39% lower risk of mortality than the milk-avoiders!

Not only that, but full-fat, traditional dairy appears to be a “natural whole food” with a range of benefits. For example, a 12-year study of 1,700 Swedish men, published in 2013 the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, found that the men on high dairy fat diets were least likely to gain weight, concluding: “A high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of central obesity and a low dairy fat intake was associated with a higher risk of central obesity.”

Sweden’s national Council on Health Technology Assessment last year completed a review of 16,000 studies like that above. The expert committee of ten physicians concluded that it was time to over-turn the advice to consume low-fat dairy – and let people feel free to enjoy full-fat dairy.

These examples are just the tip of the scientific iceberg. But clearly science plays no role in the decision-making of the UK’s Department of Health, which is currently advising people in the fattest country of Europe (30% of the population are obese) to cut back on the very foods which science indicates are not only harmless but may even have a role in helping people manage their weight.

Consumer researchers will tell you that increasingly ordinary people are turning away from the dietary advice of official experts, making their own research on-line and then making their own decisions. Given how unwilling some experts are to accept changing science, they really shouldn’t be surprised that their credibility is sinking.

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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