Last night on Nightline, obesity "expert" Meme Roth revealed that she eats only 1,300 calories a day — unless she runs four miles and works out. It's not the first time Roth has intimated she has an eating disorder.
But it is the first time that Roth has revealed the disordered thinking behind her bizarre beliefs about food and health. It turns out that Roth believes that everyone should eat, in calories, ten times their goal weight, in pounds. The idea that there must be some profound, natural relationship between the imperial system of measurements and the human body is patently absurd — and it would be dignifying that looniness with a response to even point out that Roth's little theory fails to account for differences in sex, height, or build. According to her guide, someone who wanted to weigh 110 lbs should simply eat 1,100 calories a day — never mind that that kind of diet would almost certainly send most adult bodies into ketosis.
No wonder that model Crystal Renn, who knows whereof she speaks, jumps on Roth's dangerous diet rule. Roth, ever the moving target in an argument, starts quoting longevity studies on caloric restriction in rhesus monkeys to justify her abstemiousness — but rather than send a new rule of thumb for anorexia out into the human hive mind unexamined, where anyone might mistake Roth for the expert on nutrition and obesity she pretends to be on television, I thought I'd do a little digging into her qualifications.
The National Action Against Obesity website, which names Roth its president and founder, is suspiciously silent on the topic of Roth's qualifications to hold forth on issues of health. While Roth's bio page refers vaguely to "members of the NAAO community" who are "physicians, nutritionists and sports trainers, in addition to chefs, film-makers and students," she subsequently admits that, "for the most part, we all consider ourselves concerned citizens."
Whoever and whatever the "NAAO community" may be, the NAAO itself is a one-woman outfit. All of its press releases quote Roth and are written by her. Roth is the only member of the organization who has ever made a media appearance. If there is an "NAAO community," we've never seen it (or any of the doctors Roth alleges it contains).
It seems like anyone who enters Roth's orbit, like the film-makers who gave her a platform in the 2008 shock doc Killer At Large, or who just seems like they might agree with some of her goals, Roth writes up as a "supporter." This results rather unusually — for a professional advocacy organization — in a homepage that prominently quotes both random, anonymous people ("'It is never too late for our society to rethink and change the way we have been doing things in the past. I applaud your actions.' — L.W., Millburn, NJ") and names well-known figures like Dr. Mehmet Oz a "hero." (One wonders if he'd exactly welcome the endorsement, or if he's even aware of it.)
There's no "About" page for the NAAO — just links to Roth's proclamations against Girl Scout cookies, list of "Lies Women Tell About Their Weight," and this bizarre description of her wedding, to husband Ben Roth:
"Most women I know commit fraud on their wedding days — they weigh-in for the walk down the aisle with no expectation of maintaining that weight year after year."
The contact information on all these statements habitually refers to "Writer, Speaker and Anti-Obesity Advocate MeMe Roth." However, aside from those very releases, it's not clear what she writes, exactly. She has published no books, and no articles turn up on Lexis/Nexis under her name, as an author.
Her personal blog carries the tag-line "MeMe Roth: Reporting From FATOPOLIS," but Roth is not a reporter. Though she claims to have a B.A. in journalism from the University of Georgia, she has only ever worked as a publicist (Roth once was a VP at Edelman). A piece from December, 2008, in Elle magazine — in which Roth claimed to eat just 1,600 calories daily, and to run those same four miles — states that Roth has a "certificate" (a certificate in what isn't specified, but the course apparently lasted six months) from something called the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She told Elle she now does some "health counseling" work (whatever that is).
The Institute of Integrative Nutrition refers to itself as "the world's largest nutrition school," and its third Google hit happens to be a page on CredentialWatch, which is, as the name suggests, a watchdog site dedicated to the health-related educational sector:
The IIN program is open to anyone who is willing to attend and pay tuition. No formal training or nutrition-related knowledge is required. In 2008, I was able to determine that to graduate, students were required to attend at least eight out of ten weekend seminars, complete six "health history consultations," enroll two clients in a 6-month health counseling program, pass three multiple-choice tests, and attend at least five "counseling" sessions. The counselor — typically a recent graduate — provided advice about the student's experience with clients and "modeled" the student for the six-month program. (I assume that this meant that the student goes through the program with the counselor as advisor.) Students also get advice and share ideas and experiences with fellow students through online forums on the IIN Web site. However, the forums are closely monitored and critical comments are usually quickly removed.
So she took a 6-month long weekend course from a degree mill and passed three multiple-choice tests. These acts qualify her to hold forth on the correlative risks of obesity? I took a compulsory "Alcohol Education" class in college, but you don't hear me passing myself off on national television as an "alcohol educator." (And my class earned me credit hours from a degree-granting tertiary institution — the same cannot be said of whatever goes on at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.)
Part of Roth's tuition to the Institute covered a personal website hosted on the school's server. On it, Roth makes extravagant claims about her educational qualifications, including the assertion that her "certificate" from the Institute was given "in partnership with Columbia University Teachers College." The Institute did in fact grant a limited number of Columbia Teachers College continuing education credits to certain students during the year 2007, but this program was later terminated by Columbia because of concerns about the quality of the courses the Institute offers. In any case, as CredentialWatch notes, "IIN itself is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Office of Education, which means that its courses cannot be used toward meeting the degree requirements at standard colleges and universities that train nutritionists." So whatever "credits" were given under the now-abandoned program are essentially worthless. Claiming any affiliation with Columbia seems at best disingenuous, at worst, intentionally misleading.
Let's be clear: Meme Roth did not attend Columbia's Teachers College.
Meme Roth is not a doctor.
She is not a dietitian.
She is not a medical researcher.
She is not even, in the proper sense, a nutritionist — the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that being a nutritionist "usually requires at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area," something which Roth lacks. To be licensed as a nutritionist in the state of New York, one must fulfill a raft of requirements, with components related to both education and professional experience — requirements that a weekend course from a non-accredited, non-degree-granting institution hardly equals.
Roth is even falling down on the job of maintaining a professional website as a repository for her counter-factual rhetoric and various media stunts. The blog has been idle since April, 2008. The homepage is full of dead links and out-of-date information — press releases from 2006 — and it's almost comically hard to navigate. It's like Meme Roth is playing a joke on us all: not so much for our allegedly lazy weakness for fast food, but for our weakness for lazy consumption of confrontation-driven and fact-neutral broadcast media. How long can she get away with her scam? How long can this patently un-serious, monumentally under-qualified woman, this PTA scourge, this junk-food avenger, this thief who makes off with ice cream toppings from the local YMCA, be taken seriously as a voice qualified to speak on issues of public health?
How does Meme Roth get a chyron that reads "National Obesity Expert"? And more importantly, when can we take it away?
Nightline Face-Off [ABC News]
MeMe Roth's War [Elle]
National Action Against Obesity [Official Site]
National Action Against Obesity: Founder [Official Site]
A Skeptical Look At The Institute For Integrative Nutrition [CredentialWatch]
The Woman Who Hates Fat [Guardian]
Killer At Large [IMDB]
Meme Roth [Blogspot]
Meme Roth Bio [Premiere Speakers]
Meme Roth, CHC [Health Counseling]