Sunday Times promotes quack diet

The Sunday Times published an article yesterday promoting alkaline diets, in which, less than two weeks after the ASA pointed out his lack of credentials, they describe Robert Young as ‘Dr’ and even repeat some of his claims regarding his apparent ability to reverse cancer and diabetes.

As I mentioned earlier today, I find articles like this of great concern and therefore wrote a complaint to Sally Baker at feedback@thetimes.co.uk, copying in the Editor at letters@thetimes.co.uk (Edit: I should have originally sent this to letters@sunday-times.co.uk):

Dear Sally,

I write to express concern at an article ‘Passing the acid test’, published in yesterday’s Sunday Times. As someone who has recently become aware of alkaline diets and ‘Dr’ Robert Young’s theories and influence, I read this with surprise and alarm.

To give you some personal background, I found out about Young just a few months ago and was shocked to discover a number of UK companies promoting practices and diets based on his theories. I have since made a series of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about some of these. This includes a complaint upheld on 24th August (against Energise UK), where the ASA point out that Dr Young has no medical training and that there is no robust evidence to back up advertising claims that had been made relating to his theories on diet and health.

Young describes himself as ‘Dr’ and a ‘top research scientist’ but does not hold a medical qualification or a degree from an accredited institution. His theories on health and nutrition are completely at odds with basic modern understanding of microbiology and human biology. For example, he believes if the body is too acidic, its own cells transform into bacteria and fungi. He seems not to even believe in the existence of viruses (for example, he states on his blog that HIV does not cause AIDS). This is clearly utterly wrong and if given credence, is of great concern.

It is particularly worrying that Young believes that cancer and diabetes (types 1 and 2) can be reversed by following an alkaline diet and that he has been known to advise cancer patients to stop their conventional treatment. I found it jaw-dropping to see such outrageous claims repeated in a national newspaper (according to yesterday’s article, Young says “we have patients in more than 72 countries who have reversed Type 2 diabetes or breast or prostate cancer”).

Not only is it irresponsible and wrong to imply that cancer can be reversed by following such a diet, if anyone were to do so in a UK advertisement, it would be illegal under the Cancer Act (1939).

Unfortunately the article was not only uncritical of Young and his theories, but backed up his ideas with quotes from others making similarly unscientific, misleading and sometimes downright inaccurate statements about and pH and health.

For example, Vicki Edgson said “our bodies can be in a very acidic state, which is usually caused by food choices such as alcohol and coffee, and stress and negative emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety”.

James Duigan said that acidity comes from the way we eat “because we don’t chew enough, as well as what we do — sitting at computer screens, yelling”. He said that this “creates an acidic environment in the body”.

This is all incorrect. In fact the pH of the body is tightly regulated and typically does not go below 7.35 – even if we sit at computer screens drinking alcohol and/or coffee and yelling.

Incidentally, when I complained to the Evening Standard earlier this year about an article they ran promoting an Alkaline Diet, their response was to remove the piece from their website and publish an informative follow-up article by their in-house doctor, Christian Jessen. Although Dr Jessen considered I had overreacted by calling the diet ‘dangerous’ (to clarify, it’s not the diet itself I consider to be dangerous, but the acceptance and promotion of Young’s theories), I was more than happy with the response I had from the Evening Standard and I think Dr Jessen summed the whole thing up brilliantly when he wrote “It is all, of course, rubbish. Supporters of such theories only show their profound misunderstanding of basic mammalian biochemistry.”

I look forward to your response.

Regards,

_____________________________________________

UPDATE (12/09/11)

I have still had no reply from The Sunday Times to the complaint above so have just sent them the following email:

Dear Sally,

I am disappointed to have had no reply to the email below regarding ‘Passing the acid test’ published in the Sunday Times Style magazine on 4th September 2011. I feel strongly about the issues I raised last week and am not prepared to simply let this drop.

I believe the article is in breach of the PCC Editors’ Code of Practice for Accuracy and will therefore be making a formal complaint to the PCC if the matter is not resolved shortly.

I think a good response from the Sunday Times would be to publish a Correction to the original article. I think an informative follow-up article about alkaline diets (or fad diets in general) would also be a good idea. I would also be happy for the Sunday Times to publish my complaint and have therefore also sent my emails to the Letters for the Editor address.

I await your response.

Regards,

11 responses to “Sunday Times promotes quack diet

  1. Excellent stuff. This woo seems positively hydra-like, good luck with cutting off this particular head.

  2. This is great. A clear, robust letter that should leave the recipient in no doubt about their folly in publishing such tripe.

  3. Pingback: My second ASA adjudication: Alkaline diet claims misleading and ‘Dr’ Robert O Young lacks credentials | Josephine Jones

  4. Pingback: Sense About Science launch Ask for Evidence campaign | Josephine Jones

  5. Thanks for the ‘Likes’ and the Comments – I hope that the letter will still be clear and robust when the Sunday Times have edited it and added it underneath the online article. I will update the blog when I see or hear any more.

  6. An edited version of my email now appears under the online article. I was initially pleased at this proposed response but in hindsight, I think it could have been better. I think the gist of my complaint comes across but it’s watered down considerably by the omission of some important points (Young’s lack of qualifications, the ASA stance, Young’s views on HIV/AIDS).

    I also think that in just appearing online (after a relatively long article and three recipes), the email amounts to little more than a glorified ‘comment’ and will possibly be largely ignored.

    Another important point… Just because this was in Style magazine and was a ‘lifestyle’ rather than a ‘health’ article, this doesn’t mean it is OK to print this kind of rubbish.

    I just wish I’d said all that when they phoned me.

  7. This diet works for your health. Modern medicin creates more problems for your health. Results from the ones with a disease that tried this diet speak for themselves. You simply get healthy, let your body work in omptimum condition. It makes sense. YOU do not. Get over it. Try it yourself or just shut up and eat your burger josephinejones

  8. Pingback: The 21st Floor » Blog Archive » Skeptic News: Ask for Evidence

  9. Muppen, do you have any like, you know, good* evidence for that?
    I know, i know evidence, schmevidence… always gets in the way of stuff that probably doesn’t work…

    (*- quality journal, peer reviewed, double blind, randomised large clinical trial)

  10. What credentials do you have Josephine Jones? WE have first hand experience of an alkaline diet reversing illness and disease….

  11. Why do you ask what my credentials are? I’m not calling myself ‘Dr’ or claiming to ‘reverse’ cancer or any other health condition.

    What conditions do you believe you have seen ‘reversed’ by an alkaline diet?

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