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22/12/2011 / Pedanto

The Food Hospital – or “Eating for Dummies”

Having returned home for the Christmas holiday I found myself on Tuesday night sat in front of the TV waiting for Jamie Oliver’s usual turkey oriented food program. What a pleasant chap Jamie is.  Unfortunately the hour prior to this I was forced (yes forced!) to watch the  following program.

Hoho! An apple a day keeps the (science based) doctor (who doesn't want to just sell you snake oil) away.

I have made a point of avoiding this program as all it was likely to do was fill me with impotent rage. In fact it filled me with righteous indignation, which is what happens to impotent rage after half a bottle of wine. This irresponsible and worthless piece of infotainment was lacking even an iota of sincere critical analysis.

The Premise

Tagline: Using Food as Medicine.

Now I thought medicine was medicine – isn’t food something different?

Case Study

47-year-old overweight woman with a fairly poor diet.

Now to all the people who want to play the diagnosis game you can have a clue about which particular problem she is likely to have. I’ll give you a clue it ends with “-iabetes”. This however was not on her list of major concerns, her main worry was cholesterol which she claimed to know little about apart from that it was bad for you.

We then got an explanation of what cholesterol is, and what it might do to you. The important thing to remember with imparting science to the public is that often their pre-existing level of scientific understanding can be so minimal that simplification is the order of the day. In fact due to the level of literacy in the North East of England medical pamphlets are written for a reading age of around 11 years old. There is one major problem with simplification of complex ideas; when explaining complex physiological processes to the general public one often appears to be a condescending twat.

 The bright colours were my favourite bit

After the initial home shot segment on the patient’s concerns there was a consultation with a man who I can only assume was a doctor because he was wearing a stethoscope.

I genuinely believe that the communication skills teaching we get in medical school is useful – enough of use are socially awkward troglodytes that learning to speak to patients in a formulaic manner is probably a useful exercise. Standing over the patient whilst she is laid on an examination couch to explain the results of blood tests it became clear this young doctor never attended his communication skills seminars.

Anyhoo – all her blood test results are discussed. Cholesterol is high (hint: if you’re a tubster you’ve probably got high cholesterol). Glucose is 6.8 on a random test – that’s hovering around diabetes country and what is the suggested follow-up for that? I’ll just leaf through my home printed copy of the NICE guidelines on diabetes.

I spend a lot on printer ink.


7 and a half hours later

Ah ha! It’s time to test this lady with a glucose tolerance test.

I do hope this responsible doctor did just that.

Oh dear he didn’t!

Instead he prescribed her a diet rich in soy milk, tofu and not eating KFC. All seems sensible and without the use of those oh so expensive drugs. After all spending £30 a week more on food must be much easier and cheaper than taking a Simvastatin tablet (other statins are available) for £1.50 a month. I know this woman was a blob and needed to lose weight but at no point did anyone suggest exercise. Get her on Fitocracy and see the weight drop away.

When she was followed up a month later her cholesterol was lower and with the magic of inappropriate testing her blood glucose was lower as well. 2 random blood glucose tests a month apart is my new therapy for patients with impaired glucose tolerance.

Case Study

Female patient (20’s – I could have re-watched this on 4OD to check her age, but I can’t bring myself to knock my IQ down by another couple of points) with PMS. She had been prescribed low dose SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors – antidepressants) by her GP to help control it. She had however decided not to take these as she wished to control what chemicals went into her body. Perfectly reasonable as long as you plan on living like this:

Dress sense this good can only come about from controlling all the chemicals that go into your body

To quote the young lady in question: “I’ve tried everything”. I’m sure that the words “apart from the prescription from my doctor which could have helped” was just edited out to make her look stupid.

Her prescription was a dietary increase in carbohydrates to boost her serotonin; now I can’t help but wonder if a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor could have helped with that kind of thing. But then again I would suggest that for my Big Pharma cheque.

So here’s her gynae history  (turn away now if you’re squeamish) :

Dr: “So where in your cycle are you?”
Patient: “I’ve just started on my period.”
Dr: “Grim!”
Patient: “Yeh! I know.”

So after six weeks she was brought back in for follow-up to discuss her current lack of PMS. What a surprise. Phil Plait once said “I predict that there will be an earthquake two weeks after either a full or new moon” – just saying!

Case Study

Raw food vegan worried about being deficient in Vitamin B12 who supplements his Vitamin B12.


Public Information

Ironically they even have little critical thinking pieces such as the one below in the program, swiftly followed by bullshit.

Clinical Research

Here’s my real issue with the Food Hospital. I honestly don’t care if fat people want to get thin in a way that seems easy, or if hippies want to eat naturally whilst heavily supplementing their diet with multivitamins made in huge industrial complexes. If you choose to be an idiot that’s fine with me.

It’s the apparent research which is being conducted. Clinical trials for people who are worried about their health. Don’t worry there is an app for that.

The current clinical trials running from the Food Hospital. I wonder where they'll be published....

So how is this trial run? Direct from the website we have the following instructions:

“For 6 weeks, you will be asked to eat a small amount of either dark or white chocolate and answer 5 questions every day.You will also need to take 3 blood pressure readings (once at the start, middle and end of your trial).
To take part in a Food Trial, you need to sign in or register for a account. You will be asked to do this on the next screen.”

So to assess the data that will be collected. Self selected patients who are worried enough about their health to be self enrolling on a clinical trial who will have the following things in common:

1. They watch The Food Hospital.


Thought I had a second point there but apparently not. The bias leaking in already is astonishing. Any statistician who can look at the data that will be collected here and draw any sort of meaningful conclusion quite frankly could beat Stephen Hawking in an intellectual pissing contest.

Each patient is then self reporting 3 objective values over 6 weeks which will be invariably taken on different machines at different times of day  and probably in different positions. For the sample size to offset the error produced from this we’d probably require the entire UK population to take part.

Now the results which were published and peer-reviewed on prime time Channel 4 were as follows: Dark chocolate eaters had an average drop of less than 3mmHg of blood pressure. White chocolate eaters had an average drop of only 0.1mmHg.

Can you say error?

I’m signed up to do clinical trials as a lab rat for a certain company which generously compensates its participants. I am also aware that they won’t accept you for a trial if you’re even slightly outside the realms of normality with any of your demographics or physiology. A slight ECG change will deny you £1400 for a weeks work. Them’s some tight controls! The Food Hospital’s producers really should have read up on conducting a clinical trial prior to starting one.

I can quite easily eat a hand towel and then examine the resulting faeces and sweetcorn imbued rag and gain more useful clinical data than this trial. Actually it probably wouldn’t be that easy as Jack just showed me.

The Message

I understand the point of The Food Hospital is an attempt to get people living slightly healthier lives, making them engage with science and allowing them to take command of their own health.

I’m all for that.

If everyone was healthier, scientifically literate and could look after their own health completely I would happily retire to somewhere incredibly warm to drink rum out of coconuts. I would subsequently go into liver failure and wish that I’d eaten more almonds to detox my liver.

Unfortunately the program either innocently missed the mark or has been hijacked by another agenda somewhere along the line. I know where I’d put my bets.

TV attempting to explain science and health with pseudoscience and wellness is not helping anybody. It will make the worried well part with too much money to supplement their diets with all natural detritus, and it may make the truly ill delay seeking real medical advice in an attempt to heal themselves naturally.

Here’s your Christmas funnies:

Here’s my hints on how to live a healthy life:

  1. Get off your arse and do some exercise. If you are a gamer then why not try Fitocracy. You can level up by doing pressups!
  2. When you can see the fat dripping off something perhaps think twice about eating loads of it.
  3. Enjoy your food.
  4. Drink to excess only when you really want to.
  5. Try not to do things that you know are bad for you. If you fail – hell you’ve only got one life, enjoy it!
  6. Don’t be a twat.


Leave a Comment
  1. laurajaynewatson / Dec 22 2011 17:47

    You actually were impotently enraged, it just felt like righteous indignation because you were tipsy 😛

    • Pedanto / Dec 22 2011 19:05

      thanks for making the point that’s already been made….

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