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Professor of Diet and Population Health recognised for tackling misconceptions about diet

I passionately believe that it’s only by participating in the dialogue that we can hope to see the science translated into real health benefits.
- Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, University of Oxford.

Susan Jebb has been awarded the 2015 John Maddox Prize for her promotion of public understanding of nutrition on a diverse range of issues of public concern, from food supplements to dieting.

The John Maddox Prize for standing up for science recognises the work of individuals anywhere in the world who promote sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so. 

Susan Jebb, who is Professor of Diet and Population Health in the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, is recognised for her work tackling misconceptions about diet in the media and among the public.

In doing so, she endured personal attacks and accusations that industry funding compromised her integrity and advisory capabilities. Despite this experience, she continues to engage with the media and the public on issues of dietary advice, talking about the need for sound science and high-quality research, and advocating for high standards of research governance.

Commenting on the award, Susan said: "Everyone is interested in nutrition and everyone has a view. That’s great for heated debate over dinner but if we are to shed light on the health issues it needs to be based on evidence not opinion.

"I am all for debate, but we do a disservice to the public if we muddy the waters between evidence and opinion. Policymakers, health professionals and the public need support to access and engage with the evidence. So now I spend a growing amount of time outside the laboratory, taking evidence into all the diverse places nutrition is debated. But I passionately believe that it’s only by participating in the dialogue that we can hope to see the science translated into real health benefits.

"The support of family, friends and colleagues to do this has always been a huge encouragement to me, but this award, named after John Maddox, is very special. “

The late Sir John Maddox FRS was a passionate and tireless communicator and defender of science, he engaged with difficult debates, inspiring others to do the same. He was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science.

The prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation and charity Sense about Science and is awarded to one or two people a year. 

This year’s prize also goes to Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor at Peninsula Medical School, who is recognised for his long commitment to applying scientific methodologies in research into complementary and alternative medicine and to communicating this need.

Sir Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature and a judge for this year’s prize said: “In Susan Jebb and Edzard Ernst, we have two individuals who have used their scientific insights as a basis for principled positions about sugar and complimentary medicine, respectively.

"Both of them have felt the intense heat of influential opposition and have stood by their views, at who-knows-what cost to themselves. I am delighted that they are this year’s winners, from an extremely competitive field of candidates. They eminently fulfil the values embodied in the John Maddox Prize.”

Tracey Brown, Director at Sense About Science, said that persistence in communicating science is what benefits us all:

“It’s one thing to stand up for science. It’s another to keep going when the consequences are hard and personal. The winners have both come back from those consequences and persisted in their commitment to accurate communication of evidence.

"That persistence benefits us all because it means we see evidence when we most need to see it – when debates are heated and difficult. John was always of the view that this was when real communicators put on their boots rather than hung up their coats.”

Further information

2015 John Maddox Prize


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