There was a fascinating little editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last week insisting that it’s really sugar that is causing the current blast of obesity across the western world. That’s something that certain groups most certainly want us to believe but just as you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper nor should you believe everything cranks write up in scientific journals. for the truth is that their main factual assertions, that there has been no decline in physical activity in recent decades, and that there has been a rise in both sugar and calorie consumption, actually turn out not to be true. Thus their theory, built upon these supposed facts, also turns out not to be true.
Here’s one report on it all:
In a fascinating and scorching editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, three authors argue that the myth that exercise is the key to weight loss – and to health – is erroneous and pervasive, and that it must end. The evidence that diet matters more than exercise is now overwhelming, they write, and has got to be heeded: We can exercise to the moon and back but still be fat for all the sugar and carbs we consume. And perhaps even more jarring is that we can be a normal weight and exercise, and still be unhealthy if we’re eating poorly. So, they say, we need a basic reboot of our understanding of health, which has to involve the food industry’s powerful PR “machinery,” since that was part of the problem to begin with.
Sadly, all of this is wrong. As background upon the person making the claims:
As has been widely reported in the media today, an opinion piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine seeks to overturn a mountain of evidence – and the laws of thermodynamics – with the claim that “physical activity does not promote weight loss”. One of the authors of the editorial, Dr Aseem Malhotra of the pressure group Action on Sugar, has a track record of misinforming both the public and politicians about diet and obesity. In the past, he has blamed obesity in the UK on High Fructose Corn Syrup, despite this product being practically non-existent in the EU, and has attributed every single death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes worldwide to poor diets. In 2014, an article he wrote for the British Medical Journal was investigated and corrected as a result of extreme and insupportable claims made about the safety of statins, with the investigation revealing that Malhotra had ignored the concerns of peer reviewers. Moreover, Action on Sugar’s briefing papers are riddled with inaccuracies.
And from Chris Snowdon again:
The trouble is, it is not a fact. As Public Health England noted in a major report last year, ‘People in the UK today are 24 per cent less active than in 1961′. British Heart Foundation figures show that British adults are walking less (from 255 miles per year in 1976 to 181 miles in 2012) and the proportion of British children who walk to school has dropped from 70 per cent in 1980 to less than 50 per cent today.
So, we do less physical activity. And then on calories consumed:
In 2008, one of my graduate students, Jo Stevenson, systematically reviewed studies reporting the energy intake of children. She found 2,148 reports dating back to 1856, covering 425,905 mainly European, North American and Australian children.
There was a consistent decline in energy intake of school-aged kids from 1920 onwards, at the rate of about 2% to 3% per decade, flattening out in the late 1990s. By 2000, kids were eating about 20% less than they did in 1920. Even conservatively allowing for under-reporting by fatter kids and methodological differences, the decline was still of the order of 1% to 2% per decade.
So, calories consumed have been falling. And, yes, sugar consumed has also been falling. Exercise has also been falling: the reason for obesity is that the exercise has been falling faster than the calorie count. And that really is it.
Just to hammer this home the following interesting point. Back in WWII we British had rationing. And the people studying this noted at below about 2,800 calories a day people started to lose weight. Today, the average UK diet is about 2,300 calories. But we’re all gaining weight and turning into a nation of fatty lardbuckets. Why? It can’t be because we’re eating more because we’re not: it’s all because we are using less energy in our daily lives. and that really is it, there’s no magic to any of this. Weight gain is calories in and calories out, reduce the second and you’d better reduce the first or you will gain weight. As is in fact happening.