SAAFoST Cape Branch Event

Food myths, media hype and communicating science

Consumers are faced with a plethora of information platforms, but are usually left with information overload and feelings of anxiety as to where to find credible information. This results in several food myths being created and spread. So, how do we debunk these myths? How do we "educate" consumers and how to find credible information? How do we optimise communication and dissemination of credible information between scientists, journalists and consumers?


28 June 2016


Department of Food Science, Stellenbosch University


08h15 for 08h45 till 15h45


Jacques Rousseau - Critical thinking, science and pseudoscience: How to separate sense from nonsense
The reasons why people fear innovation with regard to food are frequently not grounded in good scientific reasoning, but are instead motivated by misunderstanding or ignorance of the science, as well as a number of logical fallacies and psychological biases. These problems are exacerbated by a number of factors, including advocacy groups who care less for good science than for sensationalism; "churnalism", where press releases fail to convey the complexities of the science; and how difficult it can be for members of the public to differentiate science from pseudoscience. This talk will focus on these and related issues, in an effort to clarify key principles for distinguishing sense from nonsense.

George Claassen - The breakthrough syndrome in the media: Creating false expectations on food and diet research
Is coffee good for you or bad? If so, how many cups a day? If not, why not? Reporting in the media on the perceived benefits of food and diet often gives conflicting information, confusing consumers and creating expectations of long lives, or unnecessarily warning about death without evidence. What steps can the consumer follow to weigh claims made by scientists and quacks and how do they distinguish between evidence and mere wishful thinking? And what should the media do to improve the quality of their science reporting?

Celeste Naude - Navigating nutrition: sound science versus beliefs
False and scientifically unsupported beliefs about nutrition are pervasive. The scientific method offers ways to identify flawed information, acknowledge our uncertainty, and increase sound knowledge that can be used to address the complex nutritional challenges faced by most countries, most of which have serious intergenerational health and development consequences. Multiple manifestations of undernutrition, overweight and micronutrient malnutrition exist concurrently and in some settings, all three conditions may occur simultaneously in households and individuals. Critical appraisal is the process of systematically examining research evidence to assess its validity, results and relevance before using it to inform a decision. Establishing, communicating and using current best evidence to inform our decision-making can help us work towards actions that improve nutrition, health and development potential. Perpetuating invalid and unreliable nutrition information sheds little light on workable solutions to address these nutrition challenges and instead creates the confusion on which commercial marketing campaigns thrive by manipulating fear and lack of nutrition knowledge.

Ivo Vegter - Fashionable food fears
From salt to sweeteners, butter to GMOs, and colourants to bacon, food fears surround us daily. Everyone has an opinion about what is good for you and what is bad for you, and most of those opinions are wrong. The nonsensical distinction between "natural" and "chemical", ignorance of the dose-response relationship, and sensational headlines about miniscule risks, all provoke irrational fears and neuroses which will probably kill you long before your food does.

Nigel Sunley - Processed food is good for you!
The focus will be on the positive benefits of food processing including the use of additives. Particular emphasis will be on debunking the completely overhyped and scientifically unsound concept of 'ultra-processed food' and its related negative and incorrect connotations.

Wendy Knowler - Lost in translation
As with food, the packaging of a story largely determines whether or not it "sells", hence a sensationally worded "Franken-food" story grabs headlines and generates shock-horror soundbites. Oversimplification and selective reporting is inevitable when online news sites are competing to get news up first; when journalists are increasingly required to produce shorter, tighter, punchier stories; and when "listifying" wins out over considered analysis. So what's a scientist to do? Well, be proactive, for starters, and learn the art of packaging...

Janusz Luterek - Consumer Protection Act and Enforcement of the FCD Act and regulations, is there an overlap?
Is enforcement of various labelling laws and regulations - designed to prevent misrepresentation of facts about foodstuffs and nonsensical or deceptive claims on foodstuffs and in advertising - a myth, or is there really something that can be done to eliminate this scourge?

Dr Harris Steinman - False claims in food and dietary supplements, understanding physiology and science
Exaggerated, unsubstantiated and false claims are often made for food products and supplements. In many instances these are deliberate and abetted by a network of facilitators, including 'scientists'. Evidence in support of the claim is fabricated, ignored, falsely extrapolated or simply corrupted. Regulatory agencies with the role of protecting consumers are dysfunctional. This presentation will highlight a range of these issues and in particular focus on how physiology and science may be perverted.


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