The “Hidden Persuaders”


cheesecakeDid you hear the news this morning that a Cambridge-led scientific study has found no proof of any health benefits in switching from a  high saturated fat diet to one rich in polyunsaturated fats, like olive oil and fish? Were you surprised or did you simply shrug your shoulders and tuck into a celebratory breakfast of fried eggs and bacon, followed by a creamy doughnut?

What I found even more confusing was that the British Heart Foundation which helped finance the study, stated on its website:  “A study we helped to fund suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat. But we think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes.”

Although the charity added that “there are good biological reasons for encouraging a Mediterranean style diet ”  its recommendations are now less clear: “We encourage people to think about everything they’re eating, not one particular element such as fat.”

Feeling dissatisfied with the ambiguity of this statement, I researched the published scientific findings and came across some interesting details.  Amongst the organisations listed in the “potential conflicts of interest list”, for providing grants or fees to the scientists involved, there were some surprising names. Did you expect to see?

  • Nestle whose brands include chocolates such as Aero, Smarties, Crunch and Wonka, Buitoni Pizzas, Herta frankfurters and other processed meats and Carnation Milk.
  • Unilever whose brands include Flora oil and spreads, Hellmans mayonnaise, Ben and Jerry and Walls ice cream.
  • Bunge- a leading producer, trader and merchandiser of sugar and bottled oils, margarines, mayonnaise, flours and bakery products.

Perhaps seeing the following pharmaceutical firms on the list will come as no surprise:

  • Smith Klein Beecham and Astra Zeneca
  • Metagenics-whopioneered the development of science-based medical foods for the management of specific health conditions such as conditions associated with type 2 diabetes,….One of their products,The Healthy Transformation Weight Loss Program was designed to stimulate your metabolism to burn unhealthy fat while giving your body important nutrition for overall health—helping you to look and feel better.”
  • Amarin Corporation plc -“a biopharmaceutical company focused on the commercialization and development of therapeutics to improve cardiovascular health.”

But Public Relations firms? They include:

  • FoodMinds-Founded in 2006, FoodMinds is a food and nutrition consulting company that harnesses science, public affairs and communications to help its clients tell a better story that makes a difference. ”

  • Nutrition Impact-“ a small consulting firm that specializes in helping food & beverage companies develop and communicate aggressive, science-based claims about their products and services”

I will let you draw your own conclusions.  But maybe it’s time we all started trusting our own instincts and becoming more questioning of the “hidden persuaders” who keep trying to manipulate our spending and lives.  And, in case you’re wondering, I was not paid to write this post so there are no potential conflicts of interests in what you have just read!



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