Thanks to the Physicians Committee’s nutrition department, more and more people worldwide are learning about the power of a plant-based diet for health.
Power Foods for the Brain, by Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., was published in February, highlighting the link between foods and brain health, with a special focus on preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Barnard followed up with a book tour and the PBS program Protect Your Memory with Dr. Neal Barnard. In July, the Physicians Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain brought more than 500 health professionals to Washington to learn how plant-based diets can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.
The Kickstart programs have now reached more than 300,000 people and continue to grow under the guidance of nutrition program manager Jill Eckart, C.H.C. This year, the myKickstart Health Tracker helped participants track weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The international programs also expanded. Kickstart Japan launched in September, and Jia Xu, Ph.D., and Zeeshan Ali, Ph.D., added new recipes and webcasts to Kickstart China and Kickstart India, respectively. New Spanish Kickstart webcasts featuring Aurora Leon, M.D., helped the Physicians Committee’s Spanish resources page go viral.
“It is time for doctors and hospitals to make the transition from being bystanders in food-related illnesses to becoming role models and leaders in the fight for health,” wrote Dr. Barnard this year in the American Medical Association’s Virtual Mentor.
In 2013, more than 3,000 continuing education certificates were awarded through NutritionCME.org, the Physicians Committee’s free continuing education website, jointly sponsored by The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Videos from the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain are now available on the website.
To help the growing number of physicians who want to offer nutrition information to their patients, the new Nutrition Education Curriculum website features 18 health topics, each featuring an overview, list of tools and resources, streaming video, and lecture and discussion suggestions.
The Physicians Committee also exhibited at more than 20 events attended by more than 100,000 health professionals and laypersons and distributed more than 30,000 pieces of nutrition education literature.
The Physicians Committee’s Food for Life community-based nutrition education program now includes 151 instructors in 43 states and the District of Columbia and 87 Educational Alliance Partners who teach the Food for Life curriculum in 14 countries. Food for Life Employee Wellness classes also launched last year, and 24 businesses have already joined the program.
At the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain in July, the Physicians Committee unveiled the Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention, featuring seven principles that promote brain health—including choosing multivitamins without iron and copper. The Metals of Concern in Common Multivitamins report found that common multivitamins can contain more than twice the amount of iron and copper recommended for an entire day, increasing risk for brain disorders.
The Physicians Committee’s clinical research team conducted three studies in 2013 on how plant-based diets can help with diabetic neuropathy, migraines, and rheumatoid arthritis. Preliminary data show benefits of a dietary approach for these conditions.
The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published two papers, and the American Journal of Health Promotion published one from the Physicians Committee’s 10-site GEICO study, which found that a plant-based diet improves overall nutrition, in addition to promoting weight loss and reducing cholesterol and blood sugar. PCRM’s clinical research team also published a commentary on plant-based sources of iron for children in Infant, Child and Adolescent Nutrition.
Caroline Trapp, M.S.N., C.D.E., heads the Physicians Committee’s efforts to stem the type 2 diabetes epidemic, and in June became a fellow in the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. In 2013, more than 200 clinicians attended a presentation at the American Association of Diabetes Educators annual meeting, and Food for Life diabetes classes reached more than 9,000 attendees. Efforts to reduce diabetes in Native American communities also continued. In collaboration with the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project, the Physicians Committee presented three live seminars and distributed more than 1,000 pieces of patient education literature.
ETHICAL MEDICINE AND RESEARCH
The Physicians Committee’s legal complaints, demonstrations, and member support have been instrumental in eliminating animal use in medical school curricula, trauma training courses, and residencies in North America and abroad.
In June, the Medical College of Wisconsin announced that it finally ended all animal use in its medical education programs, after years of pressure from the Physicians Committee. In September—after a battle that started with proposed beagle experiments in the 1980s—the Physicians Committee successfully stopped the use of animals at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the U.S. military’s medical school.
The Physicians Committee also persuaded Tulane University to replace the use of live pigs with the TraumaMan System simulator in Advanced Trauma Life Support courses and successfully urged the University of Virginia to end its use of live cats to teach endotracheal intubation.
In 2013, the Physicians Committee launched new campaigns to replace the use of animals in emergency medicine and anesthesiology residency programs.
Kenneth Litwak, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate director of laboratory medicine, and Sarah Cavanaugh, Ph.D., a viral immunologist, both joined the Physicians Committee in 2013, bringing their expertise in alternatives to animal experiments for human disease research.
Litwak, Cavanaugh, and Mei-Chun Lai, Ph.D., a Physicians Committee research fellow, immediately took action in August when they learned of the Taiwanese government’s plan to infect beagle puppies with rabies to test the infectivity of a new strain of the virus. Working with infectious disease experts in the United States, they showed that test-tube methods can easily replace animal tests. Actors Maggie Q and Alec Baldwin used their international celebrity to help raise awareness of the ongoing campaign.
Several other Physicians Committee campaigns in 2013 also furthered humane and human-relevant research under the leadership of associate director of research policy Ryan Merkley.
Director of legal affairs Mark Kennedy, Esq., and senior counsel Leslie Rudloff, Esq., successfully fought a Wayne State University lawsuit that attempted to stop the Physicians Committee from accessing public records showing the details of its cruel and pointless heart failure experiments on dogs.
In response to immense public pressure led by the Physicians Committee over the previous three years, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would retire nearly all of its chimpanzees from experimentation. Following a Physicians Committee report on Animal Welfare Act violations at Ivy League universities and a legal complaint, Harvard University also announced that it will close its primate experimentation facility.
Physicians Committee scientists also increased public awareness about mice and rats who needlessly suffer and die in laboratories. A literature review published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science raised serious questions about whether experimenters and institutions are appropriately implementing the 3Rs—replacement, reduction, and refinement—in mice experiments.
Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H., director of regulatory testing issues, and Aryenish Birdie, regulatory testing policy coordinator, are also active in efforts to globally implement the 3Rs in chemical and cosmetics testing.
As a result of comments to government agencies on chemical test plans, Physicians Committee scientists saved hundreds of animals from chemical testing last year, including a proposed Environmental Protection Agency study that would have killed dozens of animals to test the pesticide triphenyltin hydroxide. Sullivan also led a federal advisory committee that recommended the EPA replace several required animal tests with in-vitro methods to better determine the toxicity of pesticides.
Representatives from the EPA and Dow Chemical Company, among others, also attended the Physicians Committee’s three-day Inhalation Toxicity: Pathways to Better Methods workshop, which outlined steps regulators and companies should take to replace animal tests with human-relevant methods in experiments used to identify the effects of inhaled chemicals.
As Secretariat of the International Coalition for Animal Protection in OECD Programmes (ICAPO), the Physicians Committee ensured animal protection representation on more than 15 global OECD panels discussing chemical testing. ICAPO also won a $64,000 Lush Prize in November for outstanding contributions to replacing animal testing, specifically for recommending policy reform that includes nonanimal test methods.
The Come Clean campaign was equally successful at helping end cosmetics tests on animals. In March 2013, the European Union banned the marketing, import, and sale of animal-tested cosmetics and their ingredients. The Physicians Committee spent 2012 rallying support for the ban and is now working with U.S. lawmakers and cosmetics manufacturers to help the United States join the EU ban.
The legislative team, led by director of government affairs Noah Gittell, worked with the House Armed Services Committee to include language in the 2013 House National Defense Authorization Act on the replacement of live animal use in combat trauma training by 2018. The BEST Practices Act, which the Physicians Committee also champions, would require the Department of Defense to phase in human-based training methods and replace the use of live animals in military medical training courses.
The Physicians Committee also supported legislation to improve federally funded nutrition programs, prohibit the nontherapuetic use of antibiotics in livestock, and ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
“Healthy on the Hill” luncheons co-hosted with the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association gave members of Congress, staffers, and interns the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
In the past year, the Physicians Committee’s work has been featured in major newspapers, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and covered by major television networks including NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, CNN, and PBS.
Expert interviews appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Anderson Cooper, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, among many others. Magazines such as O, The Oprah Magazine, AARP The Magazine, and Prevention have printed articles.
Media coverage has increased awareness of preventive nutrition and ethical research globally with coverage in the UK’s Times and Daily Express and coverage in Hindi-, Mandarin-, and Spanish-language media.
Hundreds of letters to the editor and opinion pieces were published by newspapers, magazines, and websites, including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
The Physicians Committee’s websites—which received more than 3 million visits—and our 14 social media pages—with more than 200,000 followers—also spread the word.
From billboards and ads to publications and websites, the publications department’s materials are designed to grab attention.
A billboard in Little Rock, Ark., in July warned consumers that chicken in grocery stores is often contaminated with chicken feces. Men who went to see the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month saw ads urging them to “Play Hardball against Prostate Cancer” by eliminating milk from their diets. And demonstrators at Southern Illinois University carried signs and banners reading “End Pig Lab,” “SIU: Using Pigs to Teach Human Medicine?” and “To Improve Education, Switch to Simulation.”
Other projects included Capitol Hill hearings, nutrition conferences and seminars, Web and print nutrition materials in Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish, and ads promoting food safety and Alzheimer’s prevention.