Netflix is being urged to pull a documentary narrated and produced by celebrity chef Pete Evans.
The streaming giant quietly released a show about the controversial ketogenic diet earlier this month. The documentary – which is narrated and produced by Australia's best-known paleo – features several people who claim a diet high in protein and fat but low in carbohydrates can help alleviate everything from asthma to autism.
One participant even claims to have shrunk her breast cancer tumour by ditching grains and processed foods in favour of leafy greens.
"Something had struck me as odd," Evans says at the start of the documentary. "When you look at every other species on our planet, they all control their weight automatically. The only exception was us and any animal unfortunate enough to be fed by us. I just couldn't understand why we were the exception… so I applied the only relevant skill I had, which was looking at evidence."
The celebrity chef goes on to claim there is "very little evidence" to support the standard eating advice people are normally given and a "whole stream of evidence" that is largely ignored.
"What we've been told about nutrition is dangerously wrong," he says.
Netflix did not promote the show's release on its Australian Twitter or Facebook pages, unlike Hannah Gadsby's comedy special or the upcoming program Disenchantment (co-written by Indigenous rapper Briggs).
The Magic Pill came under fire soon after it was commissioned, with high-profile members of the medical industry calling for it to be scrapped. Australia's peak body for registered medical practitioners has now doubled down on its criticisms.
Newly appointed AMA president Dr Tony Bartone told Fairfax Media he was worried vulnerable members of society – for example, people living with cancer – would believe some of the claims contained in the documentary over the advice of health professionals.
"All forms of media have to take a responsible attitude when trying to spread a message of wellness," he said. "Netflix should do the responsible thing. They shouldn't screen it. The risk of misinformation … is too great.
"It's a [part] Australian production and I don't want to rain on an Australian parade, but clearly there needs to be a recognition of the power and influence Netflix brings. People out there are vulnerable to the messaging."
Dr Bartone said there were decades of evidence-based research to back up current healthy eating guidelines. He said while eliminating one or more food groups can, for example, result in weight loss it can "make certain other conditions worse".
"I respect Pete Evans' ability and expertise in the kitchen, but that's where it begins and ends," he said. "I would never dream of telling him how to prepare a meal. However, when it comes to the trusted health of our patients, everyone should turn to a health professional. That is, in the first instance, your GP."
The documentary is preceded by a note that says exercise, sleep and other lifestyle choices also play an important role in improving a person's overall health and wellbeing. It also tells people to always consult with their doctor or health professional before starting a new diet.
Evans told Fairfax Media he rejected the AMA's assertions. He said he took on the role of executive producer because he wanted to show how dietary changes can have a "long-lasting, sustainable positive impact on people's lives".
"Modern medicine is fabulous and vitally needed as we do say in the film," he said. "However, when 70 to 80 per cent of illness is dietary or lifestyle related, then should prevention be a considered approach?
"The information that is shared in the film by leading cardiologists, neurologists, doctors and scientists has prevention at the top of their priorities and [the dietary suggestions are] to be used as an adjunct to modern medicine."
A Netflix spokesman said the streaming giant chose to put the documentary on its platform because it aims to satisfy a "wide audience".
"We program for a wide audience and we recognise that in doing so some of the content may be controversial, but we hope that it helps to convey the unique perspective of the story and the storyteller," he said.
Broede Carmody is an entertainment reporter at Fairfax Media.
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