Is the public cottoning on to the fact that the British Government does not give reliable advice regarding healthy eating?

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The Food Standards Agency in the UK is the Government agency entrusted with policing the food industry and also with the task of giving us the correct steer on what we should be eating. However, as I have felt compelled to point out of several occasions, the FSA doesn’t seem to do such as good job in either of these areas. To my mind, the FSA is an amazingly ineffectual organisation, and perhaps part of the reason for this is that the people is employs to advise on policy have often been known to have quite cosy links with the food industry.

Since the year 2000, one of the ways the FSA has sought to spend UK taxpayer cash and, perhaps, to justify its existence, is to poll people and ask them about their dietary habits and attitudes to certain food issues including food poisoning and additives. The results of the 2007 survey are just out and can be seen (in brief) here.

One theme of the results of this survey is that, compared to 2006, people seem less concerned about food issues generally. For instance, the percentage of people concerned about fat is down to 40% from 46%, and even concerns about saturated fat have fallen to 37% from 44%. Concerns about salt and sugar fell too.

Take a look at these results, and I suppose one might surmise that as a nation, the British are getting increasingly jaded about conventional nutritional advice. And if this is true, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the public are seeing official bodies such as the FSA as credible sources of nutritional information.

Dr Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA is quoted as saying: ‘�what appears to be a drop in concern about how much fat and salt there is in our food, shows how critical it is that the Agency continues to raise awareness around a healthier diet and provides clear information and advice, backed up by scientific evidence.’ However, as you can see here and here, much of what the FSA advocates (particularly the low-fat/high carb paradigm) is not scientifically validated at all. Some of you may remember that Dr Andrew Wadge (Chief Scientist of the FSA, remember) was the person who wrote off detoxification regimes without using so much as a whiff of real science.

Another finding of the FSA’s latest survey was this:


This is a mind-bogglingly low portion of the population I think, and does not say much for our faith in the FSA regarding dietary advice. This is idle speculation on my part, but I wonder if this might stem from the public growing wise to the fact that much of the advice dispensed by the FSA is anything but ‘evidence-based’.

Of course I could be wrong about this. It might be, for instance, that the fall in numbers of people concerned with dietary elements such as fat and salt may be due to chance rather than any real trend. But to know that, the FSA’s data here would need to be analysed to see whether or not the changes are ‘statistically significant’. But, then again, that would require the FSA to adopt a truly scientific approach. It seems to me, though, that the FSA is far keener to talk about science than to actually apply it.

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