British Nutrition Foundation targets myths in media

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Williams: ‘Regrettably, some of the stories in the media do little to reduce public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet’
Williams: ‘Regrettably, some of the stories in the media do little to reduce public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet’

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The widespread misunderstanding among huge swathes of the public about nutrition science has led the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to embark on a programme of work to make this complex subject better understood and dispel many of the myths that are widely held to be true.

“Regrettably, some of the stories in the media do little to reduce public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet and yet, 31% of our children – two to 15-year-olds – are overweight and obese,”​ said Professor Christine Williams, chairman of BNF Board of Trustees.

Williams, who is also professor of human nutrition at the University of Reading, was speaking to guests at the charity’s Annual Day last week (November 22), held at the Royal College of Physicians in London, at which the BNF’s patron – Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal – presented awards to various children, their teachers, lecturers and nutrition specialists from across the UK.

She expressed concern that misreporting of nutrition risked exacerbating the high levels of overweight and obese young people that existed across the nation and had very serious consequences for both for the future health and health care of the nation.

Not a trivial matter

“This is not a trivial matter and it doesn’t deserve to be trivialised in the way it is in the press at the moment,”​ said Williams.

“The Foundation staff, against this background of constant confusion, continue to keep reinforcing the public health advice based on sound science. They also provide practical advice and guidance on how real people can achieve dietary targets.”

Williams recognised that the BNF’s plan to engage with the media better to reinforce the dissemination of more evidence-based nutritional understanding would not be easy.

“We will need to work with others and form strong alliances with groups that share our aims and aspirations for clear, consistent messaging on nutrition,”​ she said.

She added that through the BNF’s work in schools and with teachers, it was already helping to support an understanding of diet and health that was based on sound nutritional advice. But, she recognised, more needed to be done.

“During 2016 we have been working on the development of a wider strategy for our external engagement with stakeholders to ensure the considerable knowledge held by members of our Council and our of committees is used to better effect in responding to some of the less responsible media stories and – regrettably also to say – some of the less responsible science media where opinion pieces are often represented as peer-reviewed science.”

Charitable organisation

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) is a charitable organisation whose mission is to make nutrition science accessible to all.

While its strategy is to do this by the dissemination of accurate, clear information on nutrition in a way that has meaning to very many diverse groups, the BNF now accepted that this was becoming increasingly difficult.

“These aims – simple though they seem – are actually extremely difficult and the complex and the changing world that we are living in is making our job much tougher,”​ warned Williams. “There is an ever increasing public interest in nutrition and there is a constant stream of media stories in the popular press.”

This interest has been driven up by the publication early this year of the government’s report on childhood obesity and its plan for action, she added.

“This year we have worked with over 6,800 schools and 80 companies and organisations as part of our Healthy Eating Week. We have also launched the Early Years Nutrition programme in partnership with the Pre-School Learning Alliance and Danone and this is in order to train nursery staff in nutrition,”​ reported Williams.

“We have also recruited over 1,600 secondary school staff for a new professional development programme with the Food Teachers Centre and supported by All Saints Educational Trust.”​ Over the past year the BNF has also launched an online training platform for nutrition.

While the BNF wanted to continue doing this type of work, Williams regretted that “it is becoming ever more challenging for us”​.

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