Medical experts question mayor giving platform to Patrick Holford
“Don’t follow Mbeki’s footsteps” says academic to Patricia de Lille
Self-proclaimed nutrition expert Patrick Holford addressed Cape Town residents on Sunday at a City-sponsored event on diabetes and healthy lifestyle choices.
Hosted by Mayor Patricia de Lille, Holford’s talk preceded his “Feel Amazing RIGHT NOW!” tour in South Africa, in which he will discuss energy, weight loss, stress and prevention of ailments like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“Patrick Holford is in the country as part of a scheduled tour and offered to do a free talk for women from poor communities on healthy diets for diabetes,” said Zara Nicholson, a spokesperson for the executive mayor. Nicholson said the mayor invited men and women from the Cape Flats townships.
Holford has been widely criticised by medical experts and scientists for pseudoscientific claims that harm public health efforts. He promoted Vitamin C as a more effective treatment for Aids than the antiretroviral medicine, AZT, and has supported the claim that links the MMR vaccine with autism in children.
In 2012, the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa also ruled against his ‘Smart Kids Brain Boost’ supplements, which he proclaimed would help students perform better in schools, as unsubstantiated and misleading.
Several civil society organizations, scientists and academics have taken to Twitter to criticize De Lille and the event for inviting a speaker who lacks credibility. Wits lecturer Robert Kowalenko tweeted at the mayor saying, “Don’t follow Mbeki’s footsteps.”
Holford’s media office said the mayor has been following Holford’s nutritional programme for some time.
“Patricia de Lille herself has attended my seminars talking about diabetes prevention and checked out both the basis for our approach and the results,” Holford said.
The mayor’s office did not comment on whether or not the mayor knew about Holford’s contested record.
Harris Steinman, a doctor and consumer activist, wrote an extensive debunking of Holford’s claims linking supplements to school performance. Steinman, who runs a blog called CAMcheck, which he says serves as a “guide to scams, pseudoscience and voodoo science,” described Holford’s work as “terrible”. He pointed out that Holford is not a doctor trained to deal with diabetes, nor does he conduct “controlled, ethical, clinical studies,” opting instead to “extrapolate laboratory and animal studies to humans.”
Steinman believes the City’s invitation amounts to an endorsement of pseudoscience.
“He teaches some good evidence layered over with a heavy layer of rubbish,” he said. “Speaking at a City sponsored event provides him undeserved credibility and pseudo-legitimacy. It could also harm individuals who follow his unverified advice.”
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