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Four anti-obesity campaigners quit over 'eat fat' report

Published 03/06/2016

An obese woman walking through central London
An obese woman walking through central London

Four leading members of an anti-obesity campaign have resigned after a controversial report suggested that urging people to follow low-fat diets and to lower their cholesterol is having "disastrous health consequences".

National Obesity Forum (NOF) deputy chairwoman Deborah Cook, a diabetes nurse, and Dr Jen Nash, a clinical psychologist, quit the board as a result of the May 23 report, Eat Fat, Cut The Carbs And Avoid Snacking To Reverse Obesity And Type 2 Diabetes, a spokesman said.

Their departure followed those of clinical director Dr Matt Capehorn and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Sangeeta Agnihotri on Thursday.

In the damning report, which accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, the NOF and the Public Health Collaboration called for a "major overhaul" of current dietary guidelines.

The report - which has caused a huge backlash among the scientific community - also argued that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while full fat dairy foods - including milk, yoghurt and cheese - can actually protect the heart.

NOF chairman Professor David Haslam said on Thursday that he was "not stepping back on the content" of the report, which has been backed by global experts, but said the way the message was delivered may have been a problem.

He said: "They (the NOF) do not disagree with the content of the report, just the way in which the report was published without their final say on it.

"Other board members feel, quite rightly, that, had they known that this (report) would be going around the planet, they would have wanted a more emphatic input in it. I agree and apologise."

The NOF is a charity set up in 2000 to raise obesity awareness and promote ways to tackle it through "achievable and manageable lifestyle changes".

Speaking after the Thursday resignations, an NOF spokesman said: "The publication went out without their knowledge or having seen a draft of anything. In a democratic organisation that is not what you do. It has caused a huge amount of problems.

"They feel they were not consulted or shown any of the drafts of the document."

The report also said sugar should be avoided, people should stop counting calories and the idea that exercise can help you "outrun a bad diet" is a myth.

Instead, a diet low in refined carbohydrates but high in healthy fats is "an effective and safe approach for preventing weight gain and aiding weight loss", and cuts the risk of heart disease.

The report added: "Eating a diet rich in full fat dairy - such as cheese, milk and yoghurt - can actually lower the chance of obesity.

"The most natural and nutritious foods available - meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, olive, avocados - all contain saturated fat. The continued demonisation of omnipresent natural fat drives people away from highly nourishing, wholesome and health promoting foods."

The authors of the report also argue that the science of food has been "corrupted by commercial influences".

Just as big tobacco companies bought the "loyalty of scientists" when a link was made between smoking and lung cancer, the influence of the food industry represents a "significant threat to public health", they argued.

They said the recent Eatwell Guide from Public Health England (PHE) was produced with a large number of people from the food and drink industry.

A statement posted on the NOF website says the document has "polarised opinion".

It adds: "The rest of the board of the NOF wish to make it completely and transparently clear that they were not given the opportunity to see the documen or give any input into it and some members' opinions differ from those specifically presented in the document.

"The NOF is a forum that welcomes debate and discussion, even when opinions differ or challenge widely-held beliefs. This paper has some interesting arguments for future discussions, some of which are the opinions of the authors, and not all of the board's members.

"Though individuals opinions differ within the forum, as a group, however, the NOF supports the principle of discussion and, therefore, the right of those named authors to produce an opinion paper based on their own view without prejudice or penalty."

The statement notes that people linked to the NOF, in a variety of roles including board members and individual NOF members, "may have differing views from some points raised in this document and retain the right to those views also without prejudice or penalty within the freedom of a forum".

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