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Row erupts over healthy eating advice

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A new report has accused public health bodies of colluding with the food industry to promote low-fat diets which are having "disastrous health consequences" for the UK's obesity crisis.

The new document from the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration calls for a “major overhaul” of dietary guidelines, advocating increased consumption of “whole foods” such as meat, fish and dairy, plus foods high in ‘healthy fat’ such as nuts and avocados.

The report adds that the current focus on low-fat diets is having little impact on the UK’s obesity crisis, with prominent snacking in between meals making people fat. It says that the science of food has also been “corrupted by commercial influences,” pointing to documents which suggest Public Health England’s (PHE) recent Eatwell Guide was decided by a reference group with almost 50 per cent of members from the food and drink industry.

Prof David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “As a clinician, treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high, suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, were deeply flawed.

“Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.”

However, the report has been criticised by many in the scientific community, with PHE's chief nutritionist branding the advice to eat more fat as “irresponsible” and potentially deadly.

PHE’s Dr Alison Tedstone said official guidance on diet considered thousands of studies, but suggested the National Obesity Forum report quoted just 43 studies, some of which were comment pieces.

"In the face of all the evidence, calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible," said Dr Tedstone.

"It's a risk to the nation's health when potentially influential voices suggest people should eat a high fat diet, especially saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet increases the risk of raised cholesterol, a route to heart disease and possible death."

Meanwhile, a number of experts said that the row simply detracts from the key focus in tackling obesity, which should be restricting access to junk food.

It comes just weeks after fitness and public health sector veteran Craig Lister called on the leisure industry to take a tougher stance on junk food, by pulling it from vending machines and promoting healthier options in leisure centre canteens.

Lister, a physiologist who is currently MD of Green Gym, says leisure centres are failing vulnerable exercise referral patients – many of whom have eating issues – by not offering a 360-degree health proposition.

“I still see so many centres offering bad food and I’ve had obese clients who have called me in tears because they’ve gone to the gym and they’ve walked past the vending machines and bought sweet stuff – they didn’t want to, but unfortunately they didn’t have the willpower to resist,” Lister told Health Club Management

“And in my view, it’s unethical to put people in for exercise referral and say ‘we’re going to make you better’ and then offer poor food choices. To say we are going to provide patients ‘health’ through exercise referral and then not offer health in a holistic manner is an issue that should be addressed.”

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A new report has accused public health bodies of colluding with the food industry to promote low-fat diets which are having "disastrous health consequences" for the UK's obesity crisis.
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