Cape Town – Nobody had ever complained to the Health Professions Council of SA about suffering harm due to any of the 29 000 tweets Professor Tim Noakes had sent, a hearing
Michael van der Nest SC, for the professor of exercise and sports science, argued that he gave advice on a public forum as one would in a town hall if asked a question.
Noakes - whose book The Real Meal Revolution promotes a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet - was called before the council after a complaint was lodged by the former president of the Association for Dietetics in SA, Claire Julsing-Strydom.
The complaint was due to a tweet Noakes sent to a Pippa Leenstra after she asked him for advice on feeding babies and on breastfeeding.
The tweet read: “@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies??” (sic)
Noakes advised her to wean her child onto LCHF foods, which he described as “real” foods.
The tweet read: "Baby doesn't eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF."
He is accused of giving unconventional and unscientific advice, and of unprofessional conduct for dispensing this via social media.
According to witnesses called by the HPCSA, a consultation was required before any diagnosis could me made or advice given.
Van der Nest said Leenstra did not specify that the query involved her.
Therefore, Van der Nest argued, the question was not a consultation. In his Twitter biography Noakes did not present himself as a doctor.
“Lore of Running, Challenging Beliefs, Waterlogged, Real Meal Revolution, Raising Superheroes author. Emeritus Professor, runner, low carbohydrate diet proponent,” is what his biography states.
Noakes did not consider Leenstra his patient, and Leenstra did not consider Noakes her doctor, he argued. The two had not entered a doctor/patient relationship.
But psychiatrist and part-time bioethicist, Professor Willie Pienaar, countered that that relationship indeed existed.
“The relationship starts when the doctor has taken any affirmative action,” he said.
Van der Nest said according to literature, affirmative action constituted examining, diagnosing, and treating a patient.
He said should Noakes have been considered to have acted unprofessionally by giving Leenstra advice via Twitter, a dietician who responded to his tweet should also be guilty of the same offence.
She weighed in on the Twitter discussion, advising Leenstra against the LCHF diet.
The hearing continues on Wednesday.