Anyone watching Monday’s episode of THE DOCTORS would have been better served by Lucy van Pelt’s nickel clinic. The segment was titled, ’Healthy‘ Habits That Are Bad for You! And for nearly five minutes, four celebrity physicians (aka, The Doctors) recklessly disregarded scientific consensus from hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and articles. They even went against the advice of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization. In short, they told millions of viewers that eating seafood was a “bad ‘healthy’ habit.” What ever happened to “do no harm”?
Back in the real world — where eating seafood is not only good for you, but also not eating enough can be harmful — we set out once again to remind The Doctors that their profession is based on science not speculation (and presumably optimal health, not ratings). You can read our letter below.
May 2, 2012
Mr. Jay McGraw President and CEO Stage 29 Productions, LLC 137 North Larchmont Boulevard, #705 Los Angeles, CA 90004
Dear Mr. McGraw:
On behalf of the National Fisheries Institute, I am writing concerning the inaccurate, misleading, and damaging statements made about seafood during “The Doctors” episode that aired nationwide on April 30, 2012. These misleading statements included, but were not limited to claims that:
“Studies show that eating fish may not be as healthy as you think.”
“Many popular varieties of fish” are “packed with mercury.”
“The #1 source [of mercury in seafood] is from burning fossil fuels.”
“If you stick to one serving [of fish] a week, you will stay well within the limits and then you don’t have to necessarily worry about what kind of fish if you do it once a week.” [sic]
“[Mercury poisoning] happens. It happened to that actor — Jeremy Piven.”
Not only are these statements harmful to Americans, they’re erroneous and inconsistent with peer-reviewed science. Furthermore, these statements can be damaging to public health. Research shows statements like these lead individuals to curtail the amount of seafood they eat, or eliminate it from their diets altogether. Here are the facts that were inexplicably absent from your broadcast:
A panel of 13 nutrition experts and physicians reviewed 37 peer-reviewed studies to inform the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans; those guidelines say that consuming a variety of seafood no less than twice a week is integral to a healthy diet. Further,
Eat at least 8 ounces (2 servings) of seafood per week to reduce your risk of dying from heart disease.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (up to 3 servings) of cooked seafood per week to boost baby’s brain and eye development.
A panel of 17 nutrition experts, physicians and toxicologist reviewed 150 studies and articles to inform the most recent World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Joint Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption. The WHO/FAO report also recommends eating fish to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease and communicating the risk that a diet deficient in seafood risks missing out on heart health protection.
It’s a regrettable fact that Americans eat less than half of the amount of seafood recommended in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and by experts with the World Health Organization.
Additionally, a study published in the Public Library of Science recently estimated 84,000 preventable deaths a year are attributable to seafood deficient diets in the United States.
The most comprehensive study on seafood consumption, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found "avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess coronary heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children."
The 10 most popular fish Americans enjoy today represent nearly 90 percent of all of the fish we eat — and all 10 species are low in mercury and fall well within the U.S. government’s very conservative safety guidelines.
Trace amounts of organic mercury found in commercial seafood come primarily from underwater volcanoes and mineral deposits. It does not come from pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants. This is not a new phenomenon; tiny amounts of mercury have been released into the ocean for millennia. In fact, methylmercury levels in commercial seafood are nearly identical to levels recorded over the last 100 years.
Studies show that children of women who consume the most omega-3-rich fish while pregnant score the highest on intelligence and motor-skills tests. And children whose mothers eat no fish during pregnancy (getting no omega-3s in their diet) are 29 percent more likely to have abnormally low IQs.
There are no cases of mercury poisoning from the normal consumption of commercial found in ay per-reviewed published medical journal in this country. In fact, according to the CDC, "finding a measureable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse effect." The alleged example used on your show — actor Jeremy Piven’s feigned ailment — is anecdotal, not scientifically sound, and has been widely questioned and criticized, even ridiculed.
The irrefutable science demonstrates that Americans are simply not in danger from normal consumption of seafood. The real, scientifically measurable concern is low seafood consumption.
Based on these facts, we formally request that you take the following steps immediately:
Remove from your website the misleading and inflammatory section: “Signs of Mercury Poisoning.”
Post the facts presented here on your website as well as the University of North Dakota’s two-minute video that speaks to Seafood Deficiency in the American Diet.
Delete the offending “mercury” segment from this episode before it is aired again, or pull the entire episode from any repeat schedule.
Make sure that the science-based facts presented here are included in any future episodes that mention mercury and seafood.
If you have any questions, or need further information, please contact me.
Gavin Gibbons Director, Media Relations
cc: Nicole Harris Johnson Vice President CBS Television Distribution, Business and Legal Affairs 2401 Colorado Avenue, Suite 110 Santa Monica, CA 90404
John Nogawski President CBS Television Distribution 2401 Colorado Avenue, Suite 90404