Nutritionists are so plagued by pressures from industry, governments and funding agencies that their science would appear "unacceptably relativist" to other disciplines, according to Prakash Shetty, the new professor of human nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
In his inaugural lecture this week, he said that nutritionists have been forced to concede their sovereignty over the field to economists, development experts and sociologists - who are likely to be supported by these very same funding institutions. "Any belief that such important recommendations on people's food needs are based on only sound scientific principles is naive to say the least," he said.
But Professor Shetty said that the voice of physiology would get louder. The sixth World Food Report, published next year, will end the ideological stranglehold of its 1985 predecessor, he said. Published every decade, the report will next year substantially increase the minimum amount of energy deemed to be necessary, from its 1985 level of 1.2 times the basal metabolic rate (energy used when sleeping) to 1.54 times.
"The fifth report was most contentious," said Professor Shetty. "The level does not even provide for maintenance requirements. It means sitting for the whole day." The new level will allow for light work.
He said he was optimistic about a new convergence of ideas in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.