The Sunday Independent
Banting judgment sets a precedent
Noakes,team rest their case at not guilty verdict in trial of three years
Nutrition experts have welcomed the “no guilty” verdict by the professional conduct committee of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) against renowned scientist Professor Tim Noakes.
The Nutrition Society of SA said: “We are glad that the hearing has been finalised after almost three years, unless there is an appeal.
“The judgment, however, has absolutely no bearing or impact on the current or future status of nutrition or the dietary guidelines in South Africa.”
The society said it was not concerned about the current status of the South African dietary guidelines or the science around nutrition as that hasn’t changed as a result of the Noakes hearing.
The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) – which had lodged a complaint against Noakes – also welcomed the judgment, but has called for “clear guidelines” to guide and regulate patient interaction outlining the use and limits of social media by health practitioners.
“ADSA does recognise that social media provides significant opportunities for public health. “It accepts the verdict and we are relieved that the hearing has finally been concluded. We welcome the precedent this case provides on what we considered unconventional advice.
“The case also sets a precedent about the use and limits of social media by health professionals.
“For ADSA this hearing was never about winning or losing, or standing for or against Professor Noakes.
“It was about protecting the health of babies and future adults,” said its president, Maryke Gallagher.
“We will study the verdict in detail and decide what implications this case has for ADSA and dietitians.
“We also call on the HPCSA to provide guidelines for health professionals’ use of social media in their practice,” she said.
On Friday, advocate Joan Adams‚ the chairman of the committee that considered a misconduct charge brought against Noakes by the council‚ announced the verdict in Cape Town.
Since 2014, Noakes faced a charge of unprofessional conduct after he had advised Pippa Leenstra on Twitter, in February of that year, to wean her newborn baby on to a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet.
This came after she had tweeted him and nutritional therapist SallyAnn Creed about whether it was safe for mothers to be on the Banting diet while breast-feeding.
Noakes had replied on Twitter: “Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween baby on to LCHF.”
Claire Julsing-Strydom, a past president of the ADSA, lodged the complaint.
She previously testified Noakes had given incorrect medical advice in his tweet, which had not been based on evidence and could be life-threatening.
Noakes, who has not practised as a general practitioner for years, could have lost his medical licence if found guilty.
Throughout the trial, Noakes has maintained he is a scientist rather than a doctor. Last year he argued that had he been thinking of himself as a doctor he would have responded differently to the tweet.
Professor Pamela Naidoo, the chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA, also welcomed the judgment, but said it was important to note that it had no bearing on the country’s dietary guidelines.
“The foundation makes dietary recommendations based on scientific evidence and the regulated Food and Dietary Based Guidelines at a local and international level. This applies to nutrition for all age groups, including children.
“People of all ages should have a balance of macro-and micro nutrients which is obtained from various food sources,” she said.
Jayne Bullen, manager of The Noakes Foundation, said it was thrilled with the verdict, and described it as “the real beginning of Eat Better South Africa and the revolution of the true masses”.
“We are elated at the outcome. The clear stance of the Health Professions Council of South Africa is that low-carb high-fat is no longer unconventional and needs to be taken seriously. “The nation has already dictated what is healthy through their clear choices and are shaping up and reversing chronic disease.
“It’s time for the medical profession to keep up.
“The question now remains: Will everyone that has offered previous advice be tried for practising outdated and old/unconventional medicine?”
She said it hoped Noakes would be given “a proper apology by the many tens of thousands of doctors in South Africa who have funded this never-ending trial with their fees and subscriptions”.