I have nothing against Pete Evans personally.
And I understand why 1½ million people follow his Facebook page and look to him for advice. Particularly people looking for answers about why chronic disease is on the rise and why there is an epidemic of obesity.
Our health troubles, along with an eruption of documentaries and books questioning the health industry, public health and nutrition messages, and the backflipping of certain mainstream messages (think margarine and butter, sugar and fat) make it reasonable that people might question the voice of authority.
It's reasonable that people are sceptical and might look instead to shiny-toothed, glowy-skinned detractors like Evans, who are passionate about their cause and keen to cut through what some see as compromised or old advice. Amid some of his perfectly reasonable advice (steer clear of processed foods, don't be afraid of good fat, eat organic as much as you can) is incendiary advice such as fluoride is harmful and causes ill-health.
I was particularly interested in the apparent "mountain of evidence out there" about the "neurotoxin" as he called it on Sunday Night, as I have friends – well-educated professionals who work in health – who have become fearful of fluoride.
Pete did provide one piece of "evidence" on his Facebook page on Monday, linking to a 2015 study
It is a study about which one doctor from the University of Oxford said there were "numerous reasons to be sceptical", while the regional director of Public Health England said
the study's authors had not only "misrepresented the conclusions of the existing literature", but they had also ignored other factors and "made a basic error in reporting the results of their own model".
Michael Foley, of the Australian Dental Association Queensland and Queensland Health, adds that the study's author, Stephen Peckham, "has no expertise in thyroid diseases or epidemiology" and says "the Peckham paper is either at best a complete dud that should never have been published, or at worst fraudulent".
Case closed. It's just "common sense" as Evans would say, right?
Well, no. Because people cherry-pick the pieces of "evidence" that support their own theories and help to explain the inexplicable (like why perhaps Evans looks so god-dang healthy – perhaps because he doesn't eat rubbish and leads an active lifestyle, not because he avoids fluoride?).
Several commentators on Evans' page linked to a US "anti-fluoride" site, which not only provides a healthy dose of scaremongering, but also takes snippets of letters out of context and reproduces them to prove their point.
I sip on my tap water and send the link to the site, as well to the original study to Michael Foley and Jeroen Kroon of the Menzies Health Institute.
"Water fluoridation is without exception being endorsed by ALL credible health bodies (not only oral health) in Australia and all over the world," reiterates Professor Kroon.
In an interview with ABC radio
on Monday, Foley, who is also an Australian expert on fluoride, pointed out that too much of anything (water, oxygen, fluoride) is dangerous.
In Australia, we add "one part per million of fluoride in the water and it has a dramatic benefit on dental public health", and no adverse effects.
In fact, the National Health and Medical Research Council states "water fluoridation at levels comparable to those used in Australia reduces the incidence of dental caries in the deciduous and permanent teeth of children by approximately 35 per cent, compared to unfluoridated water. Water fluoridation also increases the proportion of children who have no dental caries by approximately 15 per cent."
Foley added that "for decades" Queensland was the only state without fluoridated water and if there was a problem we would expect to have seen more health issues in all the other states.
"And that didn't happen," he said.
"Water fluoridation was introduced in Australia in 1956, with Sydney being fluoridated since 1968 and Melbourne since 1977," explained Matthew Hopcraft, a clinical associate professor, at the Melbourne Dental School, in an op-ed on Monday
. "You would think that if there were harmful effects, someone would have been able to clearly demonstrate that link by now."
As for the anti-fluoride site that includes snippets of response letters from various European authorities stating that they don't fluoridate their water, Kroon says:
"It uses tactics such as scaremongering and raising 'health concerns', often by using weak research, taking research out of context or misquoting it and then sell that to the unsuspecting public as 'the truth'."
"This argument is rubbish," he says of the anti-fluoride "evidence", likening it to the anti-vax movement.
"The replies strongly suggest that the original letters asked if 'toxic fluorides' were added to the water. I argue that toxic fluorides are never added to the water. The low levels of fluoride in the water simply mimic what is seen in nature.
"Of those agencies who did respond, most appear to be water authorities with no expertise in the dental health benefits of water fluoridation. Water authorities are often opposed to water fluoridation (as one of the letters points out strongly) simply because governments usually require them to pay for it. You'll also notice that the quotes have been carefully selected, and many of the original letters point out the benefits of fluoride for dental health."
He adds that "the use of fluoride is almost universal in the Western world" and European countries that do not fluoridate their water instead use fluoridated salt, fluoride gels or (in the past) fluoride tablets.
Many also provide free dental treatment that includes the use of fluorides and, in certain countries that do not add fluoride to their water, it is not because it is "toxic" but because it is naturally occurring in the water so it doesn't need fortification
"The strong impression gained from this website is that the Fluoride Action Network only published snippets from a few letters that could support their argument," Foley says. "Why did they not ask reputable medical, dental or public health authorities? This is not a reputable argument. The Fluoride Action Network ... and their fringe group mates should be ashamed of themselves."
And Evans, by spruiking such misinformation, is not only being wilfully ignorant of the actual "whole body of evidence", it detracts from the good health advice he has to offer.
Spruiking - that's a word I've never heard before.
Have you seen the video with Foley and Paul Connett? Foley wasn't very impressive.
I know Stephen Peckham and he is not capable of being involved in publishing a fraudulent paper.
No adverse effects? Isn't he aware of fluorosis?
Only 10% of the UK is fluoridated and there is no great difference in dental health. Kent I believe has the best statistics and they certainly are not fluoridated.
Snipits? There many videos of top professional's backing Fluoride Action Network but I suppose they are not reputable once they declare their opposition to fluoridation.
As for cherry picking the authorities are as bad as anybody. I suppose we all look for evidence that support us.