By Marika Sboros
Lifestyle medicine sounds benign enough. It may be a new front that Big Religion has opened in its war on red meat, says Dr Gary Fettke.
Fettke is an Australian orthopaedic surgeon with a special interest in evidence-based nutrition. He spoke at the CrossFit health summit in Madison, Wisconsin on August 2, 2017.
His talk was on nutrition’s central role in everything. In other words, in health, politics, education, economics, environment and beliefs.
In the first of a two-part series, Fettke raised the taboo topic of religion and nutrition science. His focus was the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and its medical evangelism. In Part 2 here, Fettke looks at “unique” partnerships Adventists use to spread a belief-based anti-meat agenda.
The spectrum of partners is disparate. It veers from relationships with extreme animal rights groups to the World Health Organisation (WHO). It also now includes “lifestyle medicine”.
In his talk, Fettke showed how Adventist medical evangelists established dietetic associations globally.
Also in Part 1, Fettke explained how he uncovered Adventist influence on dietary guidelines. He was researching those behind smear campaigns against him for his views on low-carb, healthy-fat (LCHF).
Consequently, he is damning about the dietetics industry. Its foundations are “rotten to the core”, Fettke said. Dietitians probably don’t even know that it’s “in their blood” to associate themselves with industry and ideology.
Adventist evangelists do seem to have peculiar bed partners. They align clearly with the WHO and its “meat causes cancer stance”. US psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede has laid waste to the science on that one.
Another partner is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an interesting one on its own. It’s as if by definition, doctors not belonging to it practise “irresponsible” medicine.
PCRM founder is Dr Neal Barnard, who has links with PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Adventists’ recent strategic alliance is with kindred spirits in fringe medical groups under the guise of “lifestyle medicine”. These operate under similar names in most continents, Fettke told the CrossFit audience.
Lifestyle medicine is a “potential front for serious medical evangelism pushing Adventist vegetarian ideology”, he said.
Those with religious objections to red meat now refer to “plant-based”, not vegetarian, diets. That distances them from overtly religious promotion of vegetarianism.
Fettke referred to the Lifestyle Medicine Global Alliance (LMGA). It’s a new venture outside the US that reaches to many countries. It includes the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
In the US, the Joslin Diabetes Centre has a lifestyle-medicine arm. So too does Harvard Medical School.
LMGA strategic partners include the True Health Initiative (THI). THI founder is Dr David Katz who openly advocates for vegetarian diets as “greener”. Katz has taken to using “plant-based” rather than vegetarian. He has also co-published with Barnard.
Katz told me via email that he is a Jewish atheist.
Of course, not all doctors who support lifestyle medicine have belief-based agendas. And the basic premise of lifestyle medicine is benign enough.
Supporters define it as “a scientific approach to decreasing disease risk and illness burden” via lifestyle interventions. These include nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, no smoking and minimum alcohol intake.
Similarly, THI’s vision seems benign enough too. On its website, it speaks of working towards “a world where all people live long and healthy lives, free of preventable chronic disease”.
Who could argue with that?
THI also claims its mission of a “culture free of preventable chronic disease”. It claims to spread “global consensus” on “fundamental, evidence-based truths of lifestyle as medicine”.
That’s where things get a little hazy. THI’s homepage picture of supporters is under the headline: “We Agree!”
However, science is by nature not static, nor should it be. I haven’t seen much scientific consensus on optimum nutrition to treat and prevent serious lifestyle diseases.
Chief among those epidemic diseases are obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. Dementia is now so common that doctors call it type 3 diabetes because of the documented link with diet.
It’s, therefore, no surprise which diet some supporters of lifestyle medicine openly advocate. It’s the one that dietary guidelines recommend: low-fat, high-carb, “plant-based” diets. Research shows those guidelines to be without robust science in support.
Yet Katz regularly claims that vegetarian diets can save health and the planet. He also claims that a vegan diet is “best”, based solely on “human health considerations”. As well, Katz is founder of “GLIMMER”, an acronym for Global Lifestyle Medicine Mobilising to Effect Reform.
Katz has asked dietitian Claire Julsing Strydom to lead GLIMMER in South Africa but wouldn’t be drawn on why he chose her. Strydom is a dietitian in private practice. Thus she has business interests to protect. She is also a former president of the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA) and staunch supporter of plant-based diets. ADSA invited Katz to speak at its 2016 Congress in Cape Town.
Fettke compared his experience of religious opposition to his views with that of the speaker who followed on CrossFit health summit panel. That was South African scientist Prof Tim Noakes.
He said that he and Noakes have something in common. “We both recommend reducing sugar and refined carbs and And we both recommend more healthy fats and red meat.”
He posed a question at the heart of his talk: “Who could possibly take offence to those ideas?”
Who indeed. Dietitians took offence in both cases. They reported Fettke and Noakes to their medical regulatory agencies.
In Fettke’s case, two dietitians reported him to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA). Both are members of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Like ADSA and its sister organisations globally, DAA is embedded in the food industry.
AHPRA allowed dietitians to complain anonymously about Fettke. However, Noakes is a little luckier, if that’s quite the right word. He knows the dietitian who reported him to his regulatory body, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA): Strydom, ADSA president at the time.
Strydom has never declared any bias as a vegetarian. However, she appears to favour “plant-based” diets. Like ADSA, Strydom has close links with drug and food industries, particularly Kellogg’s.
In Noakes’s case, the HPCSA charged him with unprofessional conduct for Strydom’s complaint. That was for his single tweet saying that good first foods for infants are LCHF.
The HPCSA’s own Professional Conduct Committee found him not guilty on April 21, 2017. The HPCSA has appealed.
Fettke isn’t suggesting that Seventh Day Adventists are behind attacks on Noakes. However, he and Noakes have swapped notes about the interests ranged against them.
Big Food is high on the list, of course. The sugar industry, the grain and cereal industries as well as the processed food industries don’t like the LCHF message of fresh, “real” food. Nor do they much like Fettke saying that grain and cereals products are products of the food industry, not nature.
And “experts” associated with the food industry have clearly been involved in his and Noakes’s cases.
However, Fettke’s research pointed to a second group attempting to silence him and Noakes: those with a belief that animal fat is bad for health in body and mind. Chief among those are vegetarians, vegans and animal rights activists.
In his talk, Fettke also revealed an intriguing connection between AHPRA’s star witness against him and the HPCSA’s witness against Noakes. That was the link between Monash University emeritus professor Mark Wahlqvist in Australia and retired North-West University professor Hester “Este” Vorster in South Africa.
Fettke showed that Wahlqvist and Vorster have known each other for years. Both were involved in the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, of which Wahlqvist was president from 2001 to 2005. They also spent time at the Giessen Declaration on World Nutrition Policy in 2005.
They both have links to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s front.
Vorster is also close to Strydom. As Fettke showed, all three have links to sugar, cereal and other processed food and soft-drink industries. They seldom, if ever, declare these links as conflicts of interest, he said.
All three also have close links with the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA).
They all also push the lifestyle medicine mantra: “Exercise is medicine”.
Of course, exercise is important for overall health and it can be medicine for body and mind. But it is not an effective weight loss tool. Despite that, ADSA, DAA, Harvard Medical School, Coca-Cola and others continue to push the idea that people can outrun a bad diet.
Wahlqvist is also associated with the Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing company that the Adventist Church wholly owns. However, if Wahlqvist is an Adventist, he isn’t saying.
It’s unlikely, though not impossible – that Vorster or Strydom are Adventists. However, they don’t declare any COIs of ideological beliefs based on vegetarian, plant-based diets.
I emailed Wahlqvist on the issue but received no reply. I also emailed Vorster via North-West University. The university’s communications officer replied to say that Vorster “does not want to communicate” with me.
Wahlqvist was a surprise choice as an expert witness against Fettke. Fettke described himself as “just an orthopaedic surgeon working in a rural community on the other side of the world” in Tasmania.
That raised the question why Wahlqvist, a high-profile nutrition expert in Australia and South East Asia, was involved.
When questioned, even AHPRA’s Medical Board seemed not to know, Fettke said. Wahlqvist “just appeared”, he said. As well, in his evidence against Fettke, Wahlqvist failed to declare any COIs as a supporter of vegetarian and vegan diets. He also didn’t mention his DAA links.
Fettke has called for a review of official nutrition advice. He also called for open disclosure of conflicts of interest by all involved parties.
“Our wealth is our health, nothing more or less,” Fettke said. The quality of the fuel we put in ourselves determines our health, as do family and wider community.
Still, we’ve produced food for quantity rather than quality for too long and it is not sustainable.
Click here to read: Time for Big Food to get taste of own medicine?
Fettke said that the quality of our agricultural soil is at a crisis point and food quality is clearly deteriorating. Thus, there is a health disaster here right now, in every country.
“And it’s only going to get worse.”
Fettke said that official nutrition guidelines have aggravated the crises. That’s because those responsible for the guidelines have allowed religious or ideological beliefs to affect their judgment.
They have also ignored the science of evolution. They continue to ignore biochemistry and physiology, Fettke said.
And when you cross paths with those prepared to defend their beliefs and ideology, “they will never back down despite the science”.
Once he understood that, Fettke said that “everything became clear”.
“Myths become beliefs and if you keep propaganda going long enough, it becomes an ideology.
Click here to read: You need 5-a-day fruit and veg? No you don’t!
“Throw in financial gain and you have a major conflict of interest that influences policy right to the top.”
Adventists like to claim that vegetarians and vegans live longer. Evidence suggests otherwise. A 2010 study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, for example, looked at longevity across several US religious groups. It showed that the (meat-eating) Jewish population does better on average, Fettke said.
Similarly, researchers regularly refer to Japanese Okinawans as being long-lived. Fette said that Okinawans do appear to live longer than mainland counterparts. As a result, the Japanese government has studied them.
“It’s always good to get the original 1992 paper rather than hear the propaganda around it,” he said.
There are not many longevity studies apart from the Adventist group that manages 1200 plus. That “says something in itself”.
Fettke said that there are many things wrong with our world. And if the planet were a computer, he would be “hitting control/alt/delete buttons and doing a factory reset to get rid of all the corrupted software”.
“We need to understand what fuel our bodies require – unemotionally,” he said.
Fettke said that our mitochondria “have no feelings”. Our cells also have “no religious and emotional ties to their fuel source”.
He said that those with religious ideologies have conned us into thinking that our cells require processed “food” to keep our engines running. However, carbohydrate is not an essential requirement.
Fettke said that we must understand what our planet requires – unemotionally We must also save our soil and understand that “cows are innocent and humans are not.”
People should, therefore, apply a filter to everything they hear about nutrition. They should decide which biased “hat” those dispensing nutrition advice are wearing. They should also make decisions unemotionally.
He closed with a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” In his autobiography, Twain actually said something similar: “How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”
- Part 1: Medical evangelism: a hand out for bad diet advice?
- Follow me on Twitter @MarikaSboros
- Like my Facebook Page
- Click here to subscribe for email notifications of new Foodmed.net postings
- I am co-author of Nutrition On Trial, with Prof Tim Noakes on the HPCSA case against him. It is due for publication by Penguin Random House in November.