Dr Zoë Harcombe PhD
My goal in life is to reverse the obesity epidemic. I joke that I’ll try world peace afterwards, but I’m deadly serious about the first goal.
In the UK, obesity has increased ten fold since the 1970’s. Clearly it cannot increase ten fold again or 250% of us will be overweight. However, the prediction of the Foresight report is that 90% of today’s children will be overweight or obese by 2050. We cannot allow this to happen.
What do I do? I read, write and talk about obesity, weight, weight loss and anything related to this topic every hour that I can, seven days a week. It is my passion and I have discovered some astonishing things along the way. Below are some headline points that the world needs to know about. My blogging site is here if you’re interested in diet and health generally.
Why might I have a unique insight into a topic that is baffling the world?
Primarily, because there are barely a handful of people doing what I’m doing – being a generalist/specialist in the field of obesity. The front line people in obesity are true generalists: GP’s deal with everything from broken bones to meningitis and from flu to depression. They can never spend the time that I can researching nothing but obesity. At the other end of the spectrum, the people specialising in obesity are studying things like “TCB1 Antagonism Exerts Specific Molecular Effects on Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat and Reverses Liver Steatosis in Diet-Induced Obese Mice“. This little gem appeared in Diabetes, April 2010. The people who should occupy the middle ground (and this includes government departments) – as exclusive generalist/specialists – think we just need to eat less and/or do more. They are so entrenched in this view that they will carry on repeating it ad infinitum until 90% of our children are fat and sick.
These groups in the middle ground, by the way, are invariably sponsored by other parties such as Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Mars, PepsiCo, Unilever etc and this is a conflict of interest. So a second thing that puts me in a unique position is that I fund myself and have no such conflict of interest.
Finally, I have personal experience of this subject to a level probably unparalleled by other obesity researchers. Having effectively done the Minnesota starvation experiment in my teens and having tried every weight loss diet there is – I am in a unique position to know what works and what doesn’t.
Interestingly – the people who do research as generalist/specialists in the area of obesity (Barry Groves, Gary Taubes, Sally Fallon Morell are the forerunners) have all come to the same conclusion – we must eat real food and not processed food. Man is the only chronically sick species on the planet and the only one eating his own food. (I would add that we have also given our pets obesity, diabetes and other modern illness, by feeding them our processed junk). “Eat food as nature intends us to eat it” is surely classic common sense – but government, dietitians and doctors tell us instead to “Base our meals on starchy foods” and they have developed the Eatbadly Plate (I refuse to call it Eatwell), which could not be more different to what we have evolved to eat. (Do take a look at this plate and see for yourself sugar, cornflakes, weetabix, white flour, bagels, white pasta, sugared baked beans, fruit in syrup, Battenberg cake, sweets, coca-cola and so on. No wonder Kellogg’s have sponsored the British Dietetic Association obesity conference!)
So what have we got wrong?
The short answer is “everything from the most fundamental principle to the detailed advice”. The longer answer is presented in “The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it?” (October 2010). The headlines are below:
1) We have got the first principle of dieting wrong. Energy in does not equal energy out (put a gallon of diesel in a petrol car if you question this). What does the first law of thermodynamics really say? In what circumstances does it apply? (Not in isolation to a human, that’s for sure). Why have we ignored entropy and what are the consequences of having done so?
2) We have got the mathematical formula wrong. “1lb = 3500 calories” and “To lose 1lb of fat you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories” has become folk law. Do you know where it comes from? Could you prove it? Don’t worry, nor can any of our government departments or obesity organisations and yet they use it all the time.
3) Why is it not more widely known that we did a U Turn in our diet advice in the US in 1977 and the UK in 1983? Why did we do this? What did the advice change from and to? Why don’t we make the connection between having done this and the explosion in obesity, diabetes and other modern illness?
4) Did you know that it has absolutely not been proven that eating saturated fat causes heart disease? Did you know that the Food Standards Agency admit the study to try to prove this has not even been done and likely never will be?
5) Do you know the fat content of meat? (Bet this will surprise you). Do you know that the Food Standards Agency and the NHS list of ‘saturated fat’ is dominated by processed carbohydrates? biscuits, pies, pastries, crisps, savoury snacks, chocolate, ice cream, cakes and so on. I totally agree that we should not eat these foods – but because they are sugary, floury, processed carbohydrates not because they may have some real food in them. If there is any real milk, meat, eggs or butter in these processed foods, it will be the healthiest part of the product by a mile.
“If we have been eating food in the form that nature intended for 24 hours, agriculture (large scale access to carbohydrates) developed four minutes ago and sugar consumption has increased twenty fold in the last five seconds. I wonder which food is more likely to be responsible for obesity, diabetes, or indeed any modern disease…”