“Nutritionism”

March 3rd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 3 Comments »

Nutritional information

Ben Goldacre
Thursday March 3, 2005
The Guardian

I hereby take the credit for coining the term Nutritionism: “The practice of promoting flimsily unevidenced assertions about the benefits of expensive supplements, or shortlived and unhelpfully overcomplicated eating fads, in healthy or ill individuals.” I accused Angela Dowden of just this. “Where have you seen me promote these?” she replied, indignantly.

Here is the first Google result for ‘Angela Dowden nutritionist’: www.healthspan.co.uk/articles/article.aspx?Id=112, a pill-pusher with a dubious “select your condition” way of selling tablets. Here’s Angela: “Eye strain: Which fruit? Bilberries. How they help: These European cousins of American blueberries contain anthocyanin antioxidants which strengthen the blood vessels supplying the retina in the eye. Bilberry extracts have been shown to treat visual fatigue caused by prolonged reading and working in dim light.” There is nothing, in 84 bilberry references on medline or pubmed, to support this. Having had to read 84 extremely boring abstracts to prove my point, I’m in the mood to cause trouble.

Then I remember. She’s “one of Britain’s most high-profile nutritional experts,” says the Mail. She’s a “registered nutritionist”, says the Mirror. Registered? With whom? The Nutrition Society: Angela tells me she thinks the register and the term “registered nutritionist” (or RNutr) have official status as a protected term. In fact they have none. But there might still be a register, which enforces some professional accountability. I go to the society’s website. I’d like to see the regulations, and make a complaint about Angela Dowden (RNutr) peddling invented nonsense, please. Nothing. I contact the “registrar”. Eleven emails later, we establish that no information is available to the public on how to complain, and no single document describes the regulatory process, standards expected of registrants, or how complaints are dealt with. My dead cat could do better.

So, I’ve submitted my complaint. I just put a stamp on it and hoped for the best. The society has decided not to make its “inquiries” public, except, of course, that I’ll be telling you everything I can wring out of it on this one; because my real accusation of incompetence is not about the fool Dowden, but about the Nutrition Society, which gives these fools their authority. This is not a one-off. This is “nutritionism”. Who watches the watchdog? Bizarrely, I think it might be you and I.

Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk


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3 Responses



  1. Patrick Holford and Chineham Primary School: Where does the praise belong? « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    July 24, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    [...] playing down the relevant achievements of others a previously-unrecognised aspect of Holfordism and nutritionism? For the Holford Watch take on the achievements of Chineham Park Primary School and the involvement [...]

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