Findings of the 1971 Resource Conference
on Food Faddism and Cultism

Summary of Report

In 1972, the American Medical Association Council on Foods and Nutrition sponsored a Resource Conference on Food Faddism and Cultism sponsored that identified some of the existing food fads and explored the underlying reasons for their popularity. Recommendations evolved relative to the types of activities and/or programs needed to promote a sound, factual understanding of foods and their use. Education is probably one of the best defenses against food faddism. A pattern exists, however, which makes the problem particularly acute. The health food movement has made attempts to discredit the credibility of industry, government, medicine and science. Having accomplished this, no authority exists for the public which, in a satisfactory way, could combat nutrition nonsense.

There is evidence of increased interest by the public in nutrition and attempts should be made to capitalize on this interest and respond in a positive and useful way. Whenever there exists the probability of biological harm due to certain nutritional practices, corrective action should be initiated. Nutrition educators rather than nutrition education have failed in their approach of disseminating nutrition information by using the wrong emphasis or appeal. It is necessary to study various approaches and uses of fundamental nutrition information at all levels of education.

Education by itself, however, will not suffice unless there also exists a subtle interaction between education and regulation. Unless a high priority is established within the regulatory agencies which would permit a strong regulatory arm to go with the informational arm, it will be extremely difficult to combat nutrition quackery. There will never be sufficient manpower to provide the type of education necessary to meet the needs of tremendous groups of people. Even if it were possible to promulgate many types of regulations, they are meaningless unless sufficient funds are also allocated to examine or prosecute those guilty of propagating nutrition quackery. Therefore, the problem is basically an administrative one.

Bizarre nutritional habits may reflect an alternative way of organizing one's life with regard not only to food but with every other element of life. Before solutions are considered for the problem, some understanding must be gained regarding why people act as they do; otherwise it would be impossible to communicate with them. Unless educators realize that what they consider to be "bizarre," "nonsense," "quackery," etc. may be rational behavior from within the individual's own perspective, it will not be possible to make any changes. Many of these individuals are seeking reliable information. Only when educators are willing to work within a group's value system and amass valid information within their frame of reference, will the information be meaningful and useful.

Variations have existed in food practices and will continue to exist; it is an ongoing process. The main problem appears to be how best to disseminate information to the various groups which will allow them to make individual decisions within their own systems.

If a variety of approaches to the problem is to be used, then certain classifications need to be made such as ways in which people accept ideas and ways in which they are influenced in their food habits, especially those habits that are deficient or detrimental in some way. The primary objective is to raise the general level of nutrition information for every individual. An informed individual has his basic defense against any untoward effects of nutrition quackery. If, however, one looks at the sources from which quackery originates, they begin to define themselves in terms of some of the specific problems. The problem is a multi-faceted one. On the one hand, there are the faddists, cultists, etc; on the other hand, the followers of these fads need to have information which would enable them to modify their present food habits.

The nutritionists' approach in evaluating food habits, for the most part, is primarily based on the nutritional elements of the diet rather than the behavioral aspects of food selection. Conventional nutrition surveys do not provide the type of information that is really most useful for educational purposes. These surveys are designed to provide information relative to nutrient intakes in the population but do not reflect what people think about foods or how they use these foods. Food habit information should be obtained since there are no studies that provide this type of information.

The multi-Federal agency behavioral study, done on contract by National Analysts of Philadelphia, depicted in a sample of the general population that five per cent of the people are highly susceptible to this whole concept of organic foods and food faddism as well as other related areas. The promotion of sound factual information is somewhat hampered by the lack of knowledge of what actually happens to people as a result of food faddism and cultism. There are a few exceptions, such as the Zen Macrobiotic Diet, where there is clear cut evidence of hazards associated with the diet.

The transmitters of nutrition misinformation were identified as follows:


A. Accidental

  1. Scientists with a bias
  2. Scientists interpreting works of others
  3. Misinformed educators
  4. Government agencies
  5. Health care personnel
  6. Friends, relatives and associates

B. Intentional

  1. Commercial communication (uncredentialed) bent on distorting information
  2. Health food operators
  3. Advertisers and food promoters
  4. Undiscriminating publishers and broadcasters

There probably exist certain factors which make certain individuals susceptible to nutrition misinformation. The receivers of nutrition misinformation were identified as follows:


  1. Miracle seekers (seeking therapy)
  2. The alienated (response to fear)
  3. Ritual or authority seekers
  4. Those seeking long life, "super" health or a "high"
  5. The paranoiac or extremist
  6. "Truth" seeker
  7. Fashion followers
  8. The afraid
All of the above groups could most likely be categorized into two general groups; namely, the "miracle seekers" and the alienated.

One of the greatest needs at the present time is to break down the barriers of communication so that nutrition educators learn more about behavior and motivation. Other allied health professions should also attempt to incorporate basic sound nutrition principles into their efforts. A real need exists between the various disciplines to focus their efforts in the area of food faddism.

In order for a proper course of action to be established, certain needs were identified in the area of food faddism:

A. The documentation of harm

  1. To individuals
  2. Of regimens
  3. To "technology" or "progress

B. The interaction of nutritional and behavioral sciences

C. A focus of effort

D. To reach consumer

E. For better communications

The needs were categorized into short- or long-term order. The documentation of harm is a rather long-term and therefore ongoing process. To get the nutritional and behavioral sciences to combine their efforts in combating food faddism, more influence should be exerted on the training of nutritionists at the present time so that the nutritional sciences would also encompass the behavioral aspects of nutrition. effort could be initiated almost immediately. Focusing of effort could be initiated almost immediately. It appears that there is a lack of mobilization of communication resources. It is necessary to examine the available tools and see if they could be combined in a more effective manner to reach the people.

To read the full report, click here.

This article was posted on December 6, 2014..

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