NUTRITION & FOOD SCIENCE John Durant, Assistant Director of the Science understanding of science, most people were Museum presented a paper on the public found to be familiar with the risk factors understanding of advice on healthy eating as the associated with coronary heart disease but British Nutrition Foundation's annual lecture. some expressed cynicism about findings with These were some of the points he made. regard to cholesterol levels. A large majority There is a huge amount of science and also believed that vitamins from natural technology involved in food production and sources were better than man-made vitamins. also a great deal of public concern. But the The public is at the centre of an arena into public's interest and concern about food is not which three large institutions, the Government, matched by high levels of knowledge. industry and the scientific community, are A survey to discover the understanding of passing information about food and nutrition. science by 2,000 randomly chosen subjects over Lobbying groups often do more harm than 18 years of age revealed that most professed good and reports in the media often confuse an interest in new discoveries in medicine, instead of enlighten. technology and science. But although they Dr Durant quoted three widely reported were interested in science, few were well subjects which showed the difficulties facing informed. For example, under half of the nutritionists and the general public. The first people in the survey could say to which was the recent BSE scare. For a short while branch of science DNA belonged. Dr Durant the public was concerned about what action to concluded that the public in general do not take as reports of recent outbreaks of the have a good foundation on which to build disease were given front page coverage. The messages about diet and health. science involved in BSE is extremely complex: Doctors have been giving advice on diet it is not known what causes the disease, how since time immemorial. In the past there have it is transmitted or the likelihood of it being been some bizarre practices but at the present passed to human beings. As the so-called time medical advice is based on scientific experts did not always agree, the credibility of understanding of nutrition. But this science science was cast in doubt. has evolved rapidly and advice has needed The second account was the report of work constant adjustment and refinement. Advances in Wales which appeared to show that men in the science have made it difficult for the drinking more milk and eating butter suffered average person to understand. However, the less coronary heart disease. The press jumped public places great reliance on medical advice on the facts, reported them widely and given to them by their doctors. This probably provoked the Medical Research Council into dates from doctors' ability to combat serious disclaiming its funded research. The findings diseases such as bacterial infections. were said to be inadequate and are to be In the fields of diet and health, some subjected to peer-review exercises. members of the public have become The third story widely reported in the media disenchanted because they have unreal or too was the link between vitamin supplements and high expectations of what nutrition can IQ. This investigation had bypassed the normal achieve; it cannot provide solutions to each pathway by which scientific findings are and every problem. The situation is validated and repeated until they eventually complicated by the fact that many unqualified become part of the knowledge within the people have written and spoken extensively discipline. about nutrition. As a result there is unease among the general public about what and These three examples show how the public what not to eat. Some follow slavishly every can be misled by the human tendency to latest insight into nutrition while others believe everything that appears in print. completely disregard what is said about the Bombarded with misinformation, subject. understandably the general public can become misinformed. In the survey to discover the extent of public
Nutrition & Food Science – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 1, 1992
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