Conflicts of InterestFood CompaniesNewsletterPublic Health

Eatwell Guide – conflicts of interest

The new ‘eatwell’ guide, no longer a plate, was issued on March 16th 2016. This is my view of that guide. This post is about the group behind the guide. The investigation in this post led to this academic article, summarised here.

When Unilever take out adverts in national UK newspapers saying: ”We are delighted that unsaturated fats, like the oils found in our spreads, now have a dedicated section of the Eatwell Guide and are recognised as the healthy option…”, you should be alarmed. If your so-called role model healthy eating plate is welcomed by fake food companies, surely you got it wrong. (Many thanks MelanieB for the pic.)

The remit of the group

A group was set up in November 2014 to review the ‘eatwell’ plate. You can follow this link to a number of documents where you will find the Purpose of the group and the Terms of reference as follows (SACN is an abbreviation for the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and PHE is Public Health England) (the bit in blue is all direct quotation):

Purpose of the group: “At the time of the publication of the draft SACN Carbohydrate and Health report, PHE highlighted action that would be undertaken while the SACN consultation continued. Sugar Reduction – responding to the challenge, included a commitment to review healthy eating messages in light of the draft SACN report. PHE has established this external reference group to provide advice on aspects of the eatwell plate.”

Terms of reference: “To provide advice to Public Health England on potential changes to the eatwell plate in light of draft recommendations from SACN.

* consider approaches to revising the segment sizes for the eatwell plate
* approaches to reviewing the visual aspects of the plate model
* approaches for reflecting messages on foods that should be consumed in limited amounts
* approaches for reflecting hydration messages
* opportunities for promotion of any amended visual.”

The group committed to meeting together, or virtually, up to three times between September 2014 and January 2015. The meeting minutes show that the group met in November 2014, December 2014, February 2015 and June 2015. The SACN report was not published until July 2015, so the group met to respond to the report before it was published – presumably relying on draft SACN guidelines.

The members of the group

If you follow this link, you can see the original documents about meetings, terms of reference etc. Very little information is shared – that’s typical of any bodies subject to the Freedom of Information act, for which I have some sympathy.

The members of the group revising the eatbadly plate were:

Lisa Jackson, AFN (Chair) – Association for Nutrition.

The Association for Nutrition founding fellows can be seen here. Jackson was the main spokesperson on the press release. Two other members of the AFN caught my eye: Anne de Looy – author of this support for the sugar industry and none other than Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist for Public Health England. Probably fair to say, therefore, that PHE set out to ensure that the outcome would meet PHE approval.

Alison Nelson, BDA – British Dietetic Association (Luci Daniels attended the final meeting instead of Alison Nelson).

The BDA sponsor list is not as bad as those of other group members: Danone; Abbott Nutrition – catch em young eh? But you can generally rely on a dietician to defend fake food and they have previously shared with me how “delighted they have been” to work with the sugar bureau.

Karen Tonks, IGD – Institute of Grocery Distribution.

Members are food, drink and grocery manufacturers, distributors, wholesales and operators – the full Monty of the food, drink and grocery world.

Judy Buttriss, BNF – British Nutrition Foundation.

Don’t be fooled by the name – the British Nutrition Foundation have always had one of the worst conflict lists you will see. Members are the who’s who of the fake food industry again: Aldi; ASDA; Birds Eye; British Sugar; Coca-cola; Co-Op; Danone; General Mills; Greggs; Heinz; Kelloggs; KP Snacks; M&S; Mars; McCain; McDonalds; Morrisons; Nestle; PepsiCo; Quorn; Sainsbury;  Slimming World!; Tate & Lyle; Unilever; United Biscuits; Waitrose; Warburtons; and Weetabix.

Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, BRC – British Retail Consortium.

Members include: Aldi; ASDA; Burger King; Costa Coffee; Greggs; Iceland; Lidl; M&S; McDonalds; Morrison; Sainsbury; Spar; Starbucks; Subway; Tesco; Thorntons; Waitrose; and many, many more.

Kate Halliwell, FDF – Food & Drink Federation.

Members are again pretty much the who’s who of the fake food industry: AB sugar; Association of British foods; Allied Bakeries; Alpro SOYA; Batchelors (premier foods); Border Biscuits; British STARCH industry; British oat and barley millers’ association; British sugar; Britvic; Burton’s Biscuit company – that’s just some of the companies under A and B. You can work through C to Z if you like! I highlighted SOYA and STARCH, as they will be especially thrilled with the new plate.

James Lowman, Association of Convenience Stores (Judy Byers attended the Feb and July 2015 meetings instead of James Lowman).

“The Association for Convenience Stores core purpose is to lobby Government on the issues that make a difference to local shops.” The ACS describes itself as the voice of 33,500 local shops. Here is ACS Chief Executive, James Lowman, (the man on the ‘eatwell’ committee) welcoming the failure of the Welsh public health bill, because convenience stores don’t want a tobacco register. Nice!

Modi Mwatsama, UKHF (UK Health Forum) – jolly good!

No conflicts! Ta dah! However, how much impact could one person have, especially when other potentially health orientated members didn’t turn up…

Helen Donovan, RCN – Royal College of Nursing – jolly good!

However, the meeting minutes showed that Donovan did not attend the December 2014, February 2015 or June 2015 meetings, so nurses were not represented.

Esther Trenchard-Mabere, ADPH – Associate Director of Public Health – should be good but also, according to the minutes, didn’t attend any meetings beyond the November 2014 ‘meet and greet’.

Maureen Strong, AHDB – Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.

The Agricultural & Horticulture Development Board is a statutory levy board. Farmers, growers and others in the supply chain have to pay the levy. The AHDB is supposed to represent: Pig meat; Milk; Beef & lamb; Cereals and oilseeds; and Potatoes. May I suggest that, while cereals, oilseeds and potatoes are celebrating, pig, milk, beef and lamb producers should withhold their levies. Strong certainly did not put in a strong showing on behalf of meat and dairy producers.

The bottom line

The terms of reference tell us that “Public Health England established this external reference group to provide advice on aspects of the eatwell plate.” Public Health England presumably appointed the chair from the same stable as itself (AFN). Public Health England presumably appointed the other reference group members from the fake food industry. Why? Why have one such member? Let alone stack the majority of the group with the who’s who of the fake food industry? How the heck are we supposed to take Public Health England seriously with this kind of behaviour?

What on earth chance did EAT REAL FOOD! have with that External Reference Group?!

p.s. (This was the Monday newsletter for 28 March 2016)

26 thoughts on “Eatwell Guide – conflicts of interest

  • Hi Zoë,

    Congratulations! Zoe Harcombe is nominated for Healthline’s Annual Best Health Blog Contest! Check it out here:

    Every year we take a look at the top health blogs to honor & recognize them. This year things may look a little different, as we’ve updated the contest and taken strides to make sure everything runs smoothly & everyone has a good time voting for their favorites!

    The contest has a nomination period, starting now, until November 21st. After that, you can vote once per day for your favorite blog up until December 12th when the winner will be announced.

    Once voting begins, we’ll send you a reminder email so you can share with your followers. Remember, the blog with the most votes will receive a $1000 cash prize!

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    Congrats and good luck!

    Maegan Jones | Content Coordinator
    Your most trusted ally in pursuit of health and well-being

  • Pingback: Disgusted. New UK “Eatwell Guide” Shows Govt Diet Guidelines Are Still Industry Money-Based - Live Energized

  • Can anyone tell me because I can’t find anywhere to ask, is this diet suitable for people who don’t want to lose weight but just find a healthy long term way of eating? Many thanks for any advice.

    • NO! Eat REAL food, not white processed flours, breads, etc. Lots of veggies, little fruit, (too much sugar)
      Some protein , in any form, eggs, meats , poultry, don’t be scared of FAT, & don’t eat ANYTHING light or fat reduced. I don’t eat bread anymore but it’s a good idea to reduce all the manufactured products, biscuits , bread etc. Carbohydrates…..

  • Dear Zoe,

    After being outraged by the information you have discussed in this blog we have started a petition:

    “Demand that UK Dietary Guidelines are no longer influenced by the Food Industry.”

    I hope some of your readers can find the time to sign and share this petition.

    Thank you :)

  • Thanks, this really helped. Sometimes you get a nigling doubt about the advice on healthy fats vs carbs… And then your article helps with the perspective.

  • Dear Zoë,

    I love the philosophy of your science: evidence versus hand waving!
    Thank you so much for all this valuable work and making it public.


  • Silly woman! Of COURSE the Eatwell Plate is evidence based. Just look at the balance sheets of the companies listed above and you will see all the evidence you need!

    If they were honest they would add the insulin pen, metformin, statins, BP meds and PPIs to the yellow sector.

  • Pingback: Home-made is the real convenience food | nigeldudley

  • Hi Zoe, Do you mind if I include a link to your website in my website that I am developing to help people live the low carb lifestyle in practical day to day advice?

  • An American “Eatwell” plate.

    My wife recently was diagnosed with diabetes. She’s a member of a HMO here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kaiser Permanente, and they had her go to a Diabetes information group. Whoo-boy!

    Their version of a “Eatwell” plate is 1/2 plate non-starchy vegetables (includes broccoli, carrots and tomatoes), 1/4 plate whole grain, 1/4 plate lean protein (they show a skinless chicken breast) along with a glass of low-fat or skim milk and a peach.

    Because, according to them, you can have 30 to 45 grams of carb per meal. In fact you HAVE to have 30 to 45 grams because if you don’t, you won’t have enough energy. Oh, and by the way, broccoli, carrots, whatever (the “non-starchy vegetables”) aren’t included in the carb count. They are “free carbs.”

    Some very dangerous information in this class, aside from the 135+ grams of carbs you’re allowed each day. The presenter was very concerned about these newspaper chefs who say fat is ok. She talked about how it was “criminal” that Whole Foods was ordering more full fat yogurt.

    At this presentation on diabetes they spent 20 minutes on hypoglycemia, because it’s a “side effect” of adiabetes medication. To guard against this, you need to take your blood glucose meter everywhere and when you feel fatigued or spacey take a measurement. If it’s low, just pop in a tablespoon of sugar, 15 small jelly beans or equivalent.

    One piece of good news: they are being “more lenient” with high blood pressure in the elderly because too many people were passing out. Uhh, do you think there might be a reason blood pressure goes up as we age? Who knew!!!!

    In two weeks, eating basically the way Zoë recommends (along with gymnema and a couple other supplements), my wife’s resting glucose has gone from 266 to 120. The presenter actually asked what my wife was doing and couldn’t cut her off fast enough when it didn’t go along with the prescribed program.

    What’s scary is that everyone else at the presentation bought into it. Though for some of them, 135 grams of carbs a day is probably a dramatic drop.

    Here’s nother scary thing about the American medical system. The American Diabetes Association recommends that every one diagnosed as diabetic between the ages of 45 and 75 should be on statins. (Maybe they could add that to their sample plate.) And it’s worse than that. My sister is a family practice physician in Washington as part of a large hospital-owning company. If the percentage of her diabetic patients on statins is not high enough, she gets paid less. Pharma-run disease care. That’s what is taking over here.

    • Hi Michael
      Thanks SO much for sharing this – you paint such a vivid picture! Reminds me of that diabetes man who worked out the right diet and blogged on it and the official advice tried to silence him. He ended up using the US constitution (freedom of speech) to get his alternative view out there! There will be law suits – soon I hope!

      Best wishes to you and your wife for continued real food/managed carb success!
      Best wishes – Zoe
      p.s. have you come across this genius?

      • That would be Steve Cooksey. He’s still very active in that area and has a strong following on Facebook, with a couple of hundred or so people managing their blood glucose by diet and exercise and achieving normal, or close to normal, blood glucose levels.

        He’s probably done more for the health of diabetics (including me) single handed than the whole of the ADA!

        • When I say ‘that doctor’ I am referring to the speaker on the youtube video Zoe linked to – just to be clear.

  • There’s no conflict of interest there — they’re all interested in the health of their bottom line.

  • Hi Zoë,

    Excellent work! No surprises though, and the BNF – very Orwellian (double plus good title there).

    Mind boggling how much paper these “experts” generated (no doubt much more that will never see the light of day) creating such a useless guide. Full of the typical mindless committee waffle that these sort of meetings generate. I suspect much time was spent ensuring that all of the interested parties were happy that the products/interests of their company were adequately promoted to avoid criticism once they returned to base.

    You could have provided a real eatwell guide at a fraction of the cost – and time. However much of the food industry would be unhappy and likewise their supporters in the government.

    Society has painted itself into a corner. Our poor dietary decisions – promoted by advertising – have resulted in a multitude of unhealthy products that by their very pervasiveness have convinced many that they are real food. Designed to look and taste good they deceive people. Even if the government really wanted to promote healthy food our population is such that the UK is not capable of providing it – we already import huge amounts. Whether by design or poor planning we now rely heavily upon cheap carbohydrate dense products to feed the nation. The fact that such products offer little in real nutrition escapes many and the result is that many who appear well-fed are in fact malnourished.

    I often try to explain to people just because we can manufacture pleasant tasting food it doesn’t mean that it’s good for us. If you were to suggest that a lion should be made to eat a vegan diet or a giraffe meat they’d say it was stupid because they should eat their natural diet, but when it comes to themselves or, worse, their children they think nothing of feeding them unnatural diets. Bang head and repeat!

  • It’s also worrying at the EU level (which overrides the UK; the EU’s EFSA dictates to the UK’s FSA). To quote the book “Europe on 387m Euros a Day” (disclaimer: mine):

    ‘On 21 May 2008, a Swedish newspaper reported that the European Commission had paid €13.2million to a lobby group to review the EU’s official guidelines on food and nutrition. The group was Eurreca, an extension of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is run and funded by the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Heinz, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble. The article noted that “the ILSI is a controversial organisation… in 2002 it questioned the recommendation to limit the consumption of sugar to less than 10 per cent. The group argued that it wasn’t proven that the measure, which was a threat to the soft-drink industry, would help fight obesity.”

    ‘The Brussels Sprouts column in Private Eye was also wary: “Many of these companies manage to participate twice in the project through another front organisation, the European Food Information Council, the membership of which largely reproduces ILSI’s. Why deep-pocketed food multinationals should be paid from the public purse to develop nutrition recommendations is unclear, but one thing is for sure: ILSI has form. The BBC’s Panorama investigated it in 2004 for secretly funding a UN study on the role of sugar and carbohydrates in nutrition. We await Eurreca’s no-doubt scientifically rigorous and entirely unbiased conclusions in due course.”’

  • It makes one really thankful that one doesn’t read the newspapers, watch TV, or pay the slightest attention to government advice. (Other than perhaps to assume that it is wrong, and explore alternatives in the opposite direction).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.