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Dietitians complain about TV weight-loss series

SMC Alert

Dietitians complain about TV weight-loss series

TV3's weight-loss series, Downsize Me ended recently amid controversy over the accuracy of some of the nutritional information, and the approach taken by the presenters in promoting the weight loss.
The New Zealand Dietetic Association, who recently met with presenter Damian Kristof to outline their concerns, currently have several complaints pending with the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Downsize Me screened in prime time on TV3 and was produced by ABH Productions.
We asked nutrition experts, who have been involved in making the complaints, to comment on the show, and to highlight some of their concerns.
Nikki Talacek is a Registered Dietitian, she works with one of New Zealand's leading weight loss surgeons Michael Booth and provides dietary advice to obese patients undergoing bariatric (weight loss) surgery. She comments:
"Downsize Me is a show that I'm sure most people have heard about. Like all shows, it has its good points and its not so good points.
"I think it is always nice to start with the good. Downsize Me has brought awareness to the growing obesity epidemic, and the need for everyone to stand up and take notice. Obesity can cause an array of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so the more awareness that is brought to this issue, the better. Downsize Me also encourages people to move away from convenience based foods and takeaways and back into cooking, which any dietitian will tell you is a good thing.
"Unfortunately, though, there are some not so good points to the show, which cause great concern to dietitians. Many of these are based on sweeping statements made by the host Damian Kristof. Several of these statements are only backed up by small isolated studies, with the majority of the scientific research available showing results contrary to his beliefs.
"Overall I think Downsize Me could potentially cause undue alarm to viewers because Damian promotes the idea that sugar can cause Type 2 diabetes (which is incorrect); recommends excess amounts of weight loss (which is inappropriate); creates the impression that the participant has to stop eating carbohydrates altogether otherwise they will get diabetes (which is inaccurate); and suggests that participants can reverse the diabetes they already have (which is not possible through dietary change alone). Further, his promotion of coconut oil for cooking is not advisable, as this oil is high in saturated fatty acids. My primary concern, though, is that Damian often gives advice which is contrary to Ministry of Health guidelines regarding healthy eating, and this can be very confusing for the public."
Kath Fouhy is a Registered Dietitian with a degree from the University of Otago. She is a leader in the field of nutrition and dietetics, currently working as a nutrition consultant. She comments:
"Around two thirds of New Zealand adults are classified as overweight or obese, which means that it has now become 'abnormal' to be a healthy weight. More frightening is that one third of our children are classified as overweight or obese, and it has been predicted that this generation may be the first to not out live their parents.
"With health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease constantly in the news, many science-trained individuals are joining forces and trying their best to do something about it. However, everyone has an opinion on food, which has lead to a lot of contradictory information in the media. It seems that every time I pick up a women's magazine, search the internet, or turn on the TV, I get told something different: no carbs, low carbs, low-fat, fruit only until lunch time, 2 litres of water a day, don't is no wonder people get confused.
"The recent series of Downsize Me inspired many people to get off the couch and turn their lives around, but it was a shame to see that in the last show that many of the participants had regained some of their weight, when they probably should have been still losing it. 
1.         The Evidence Based Best Practice Guidelines (of New Zealand) Management of Type 2 Diabetes 2003
2.         Institute of Medicine (IOM). Dietary Carbohydrates: sugars and starches. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. National Academies Press, Washington (2002)
3.         Janket SJ, Manson JE, Sesso H, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of sugar intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 203; 26(4):1008-15
4.         Understanding Nutrition 7th Edition 1996, pg 277 (Chapter 8 Energy Balance and Body Composition). Whitney EN, Rolfes SR

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