Monday, 19 March 2012

Would the real 'expert' please stand up

Posted by Amelia Lake

My advice to you is, be careful what you tweet. I discovered this to my cost as my eagle-eyed colleagues in Fuse spotted my frustration in 140 characters and persuaded me to write this post.

My tweet-anger or ‘twanger’, as I might coin for the urban dictionary, followed an interview on BBC Radio 4’s drive time news programme, PM. A ‘food’ author was being interviewed about the highly publicised Harvard study warning about the risks of red meat to health.

New research suggests red meat increases all-cause mortality

At the time, I was driving home from work and seriously considered pulling over on the motorway to tweet the PM programme right there and then.

I wanted to know why they did not have a Dietitian or a qualified nutritional expert on their programme, rather than an author who has just released a new book this month and appears to have no nutritional qualifications. A real expert might have at least provided a balanced view and reflected the current evidence around red meat and health. An author on the book tour trail appeared incapable.

Reader, I was very cross!

This was in contrast to the British Dietetic Association’s spokesperson on the BBC’s Today programme who gave an excellent summary of the study and made clear what the implications were for practice. Well done Ursula Arens.

The Department of Health recommends that people should limit their intake of red and processed meat to no more than 70 grams a day in cooked weight. The dietary advice to reduce red and processed meat in our diet is not new; this new study has re-enforced the message. For more information and practical suggestions see the World Cancer Research Fund web pages.

Please, please, please radio researchers (or researchers working in any media for that matter) when booking your ‘experts’ think carefully. As a Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist I do not consider an individual who does not have any nutritional qualifications to be an adequate spokesperson on what constitutes a healthy diet.

Both the British Dietetic Association and The Nutrition Society have qualified nutritional experts who give up their time (without books to promote) to discuss new studies or diet related recommendations. Most media coverage on the study was by qualified experts, and this piece on PM really disappointed me.

I didn’t stop on the A19. I drove home safely (while muttering angrily to myself) and tweeted my frustrations to PM in the car outside my home. I was rallied by support from another Dietitian who’d also heard the piece. However, I’ve yet to get a response from PM!


  1. I found the coverage of the piece confusing and even as a non dietitian, I thought there were some obvious flaws with the study in the way it was being reported.

    I also shout at the radio a lot.

  2. Thanks for the response and glad you - like many others agree. Unfortunately this still happens where 'non-experts' are used instead of 'experts' who could give a much clearer balanced picture. Shouting at the radio is quite therapeutic!