Sponsored dietary advice in the NHS
Someone I know has recently had an NHS health check. The results, I'm happy to say, were largely positive, but one exception was a finding of slightly raised cholesterol. This, it was suggested, could be managed by diet, and given the low overall cardiovascular risk, there was no need to prescribe statins.
That all sounds like pretty sensible advice so far.
To help choose a cholesterol-friendly diet, my friend was given a fact sheet with advice on what foods to eat often and what foods to avoid. Again, the advice looked pretty sensible: eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg, avoid cream-filled chocolate puddings, all that sort of thing.
However, when I looked closely at the fact sheet, I found something that concerned me. One of the pieces of advice was to include plenty of Flora Pro-Activ, a brand of dairy products that include plant sterols, in the diet. Not just any old source of plant sterols, but that particular brand. Clearly, the fact sheet had been sponsored by Flora.
No mention was made that the fact sheet was sponsored by a commercial company with an interest in the products recommended. If I hadn't spotted this, my friend would have been left thinking that it was impartial advice provided by the NHS.
Now, I'm not criticising Flora here. The advice seemed pretty sensible, and there is indeed evidence that plant sterols can help lower cholesterol (though there is a lack of direct evidence that this translates into reduced cardiovascular risk). Their leaflet is no doubt helpful to those looking to control their cholesterol, and it seems an entirely reasonable way for them to market their product.
I am, however, criticising the NHS. It would probably be better if they produced their own fact sheets for patients wanting to control their cholesterol. But if they've decided that it's not cost effective for them to do so when commercial companies are willing to provide them, then it is absolutely essential that they should make the nature of the fact sheet clear to patients.
I'm sorry, but providing commercially sponsored information to patients without telling them that it's commercially sponsored is really not on.