By Marika Sboros
Lifestyle medicine sounds benign enough. By design or default, it may also be a cover for Big Religion’s new front in its war on red meat. So says Dr Gary Fettke, an Australian orthopaedic surgeon with a special interest in evidence-based nutrition.
Fettke spoke at the CrossFit health summit in Madison, Wisconsin on August 2, 2017 on nutrition’s central role in everything. In other words, nutrition 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 the final part here, Fettke looks at unique partnerships that Adventists use to spread a belief-based, anti-red-meat agenda.
The spectrum of bed partners certainly is eclectic. It veers from relationships with extreme animal rights groups to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and now “lifestyle medicine”.
In his talk, Fettke showed how Adventist medical evangelists have also supported and established dietetic associations globally.
Rot at the core of the dietetics industry
Fettke is especially critical of the dietetics industry. Its foundations are “rotten to the core”, he said. Dietitians probably don’t even know that it’s “in their blood” to associate with industry and ideology.
Certainly, Adventist medical evangelists do appear to have odd bod bed partners. They sleep well with the WHO and its “meat causes cancer stance”. US psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede has laid waste to the science on that one.
Another Adventist partner is the so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM founder is vegan physician Neal Barnard, who has close links with PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Click here to read: Why giving up meat won’t save people or the planet
Thus, Adventists’ recent strategic alliances are 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. Just one red flag is that those with religious objections to red meat now refer to “plant-based” instead of vegetarian, diets. That’s just semantics, he said, designed to distance themselves from overtly religious promotion of vegetarianism.
That’s not a bad tactic as science and religion make uncomfortable bedfellows.
Forging global alliances
Fettke referred to the Lifestyle Medicine Global Alliance (LMGA), a new venture in and outside the US. 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 as does Harvard Medical School.
LMGA strategic partners include the True Health Initiative (THI). Its founder is US physician David Katz who openly advocates for vegetarian diets as “greener”. Katz has also taken to using “plant-based” instead of vegetarian and has also co-published with Barnard.
Of course, not all doctors who support lifestyle medicine have religious, belief-based agendas. (Katz told me via email that he is a Jewish atheist.) And the basic premise of lifestyle medicine can be helfpul.
In its most positive and original incarnation, lifestyle medicine is defined 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.
A world free of disease?
Similarly, THI’s vision appears benign enough on the surface. On its website, THI claims its mission of a “culture free of preventable chronic disease” and working to achieve “global consensus on “fundamental, evidence-based truths of lifestyle as medicine”.
That’s where things get a little hazy, as Fettke has shown. THI’s homepage picture of supporters is under the headline: “We Agree!”
Yet science by nature and definition is not static. And there is very little, if any scientific consensus on optimum nutrition to treat and prevent nutrition-related lifestyle diseases. Chief among those 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 also no surprise that supporters of lifestyle medicine openly advocate a diet that conventional dietary guidelines recommend – one that is low-fat, high-carb, “plant-based” diets. As Fettke pointed, research shows those guidelines to be without robust science in support.
A ‘Glimmer’ of new hope?
Physicians who are firmly in the lifestyle-medicine camp also regularly claim that vegetarian diets can save the health of people and the planet. Katz has claimed that a vegan diet is “best”, based solely on “human health considerations”. To that end, he is founder of “GLIMMER”, an acronym for Global Lifestyle Medicine Mobilising to Effect Reform.
Fettke has compared his experience of religious opposition to his views with that of the speaker who followed him on the CrossFit health summit panel, South African scientist Prof Tim Noakes. Both recommend reducing sugar and refined carbs and increasing intake of healthy fats and animal foods, including red meat.
Fettke posed a question at the heart of his talk: “Who could possibly take offence to those ideas?”
Who indeed? Dietitians, for one. In both cases, dietitians reported Fettke and Noakes to their medical regulatory agencies.
In Fettke’s case, two members of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) reported him. And in Noakes’ case, Johannesburg dietitian Claire Julsing Strydom, president of the Association for Dietetics in Southern Africa (ADSA) at the time, reported him to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
The DAA and ADSA have always worked closely together. And like their sister organisations globally, both have close links with food and drug industries.
Strydom has not said that she is a vegetarian but she does promote “plant-based” diets in her private practice and as ADSA president. And like ADSA, Strydom has close links with drug and food industries, particularly Kellogg’s.
Fettke isn’t suggesting that Seventh Day Adventists were behind attacks on Noakes. However, he and Noakes have swapped notes about the links between the many and varied interests ranged against them.
Fettke has highlighted the close connection between AHPRA’s star witness against him , Monash University emeritus professor Mark Wahlqvist in Australia, and retired North-West University professor Hester “Este” Vorster against Noakes.
Wahlqvist and Vorster were involved in the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, of which Wahlqvist was president from 2001 to 2005. They spent time at the Giessen Declaration on World Nutrition Policy in 2005. And both have links to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s front.
Hiding religious views
If Wahlqvist is an Adventist, he isn’t saying. However, he has worked for the Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company, an Australian wholly owned Seventh-day Adventist cereal/processed food business.
Vorster is also close to Strydom. And 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.
(Editor’s note: It’s unlikely, though not impossible, that Vorster or Strydom are Adventists. As Afrikaners in South Africa, they are more likely to be members of the Dutch Reformed Church. They do not declare any COIs of religious or ideological beliefs when promoting plant-based diets.)
They all also promote 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 promote the idea that it is possible to ‘outrun a bad diet’.
Time for official diet advice to change?
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.)
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,” he 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?
He also raised the issue of quality of agricultural soil globally that he said is at a crisis point. As a result, food quality is clearly deteriorating. Therefore, there is a health disaster in every country “and it’s only going to get worse.”
Official nutrition guidelines have aggravated the crises, he said. That’s largely because those responsible for the making up the guidelines have allowed religious or ideological beliefs to affect their judgment. They have also ignored the science of evolution, 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”.
Follow the money
Once he understood that, Fettke said that he had a better idea of the motivation for those opposing his promotion of LCHF: “Myths become beliefs and if you keep propaganda going long enough, it becomes an ideology.
“Throw in financial gain and you have a major conflict of interest that influences policy right to the top.”
Click here to read: You need 5-a-day fruit and veg? No you don’t!
There are many things wrong with our world, Fettke told the Cross fit gathering. 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 and we need to do so unemotionally,” he said.
Our mitochondria “have no feelings” and our cells have “no religious and emotional ties to their fuel source”.
Yet those with religious ideologies have conned people into thinking that their bodies require processed “food” to keep their engines running. People should, therefore, apply a filter to everything they hear about nutrition.
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?
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- 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.