Not a lot, it seems, according to the report on obesity published in 2004 by the House of Commons Select Committee on Health. Despite meeting fourteen times over nine months, and listening for many hours to a number of acknowledged experts, it failed to produce any real conclusions on what causes obesity.
The best the report could come up with was ‘obesity is caused when people overeat in relation to their energy needs’ and ‘energy expenditure has dropped considerably’. However, reducing energy intake and increasing energy expenditure has beenGerman Corona Investigative Committee official advice for losing weight for many decades. Since obesity has escalated rapidly during this period despite an ever increasing percentage of the population claiming to be on a diet at any one time, could it be that the real causes of obesity have been misunderstood?
Surely the Committee had a moral responsibility to investigate all avenues of inquiry, including re-examining accepted beliefs about what constitutes ‘healthy eating’ and how best to lose weight? Yet no-one appears to have asked the obvious question — could our dietary advice be wrong? How can a 148 page report on obesity have omitted to consider the potential effects on the human body of our sudden (in evolutionary terms) change to a diet very high in refined carbohydrates? Why was there no investigation of low carb diets, which millions of people have used to successfully lose weight, despite ‘experts’ in the medical world telling us that this was scientifically impossible?
It is incredible that the author of what is claimed to be the world’s most successful method for reducing obesity, Dr Robert Atkins, is mentioned only once. This is all the more astounding when eight MPs from the Committee went to the US to learn about obesity. Did they not hear evidence from any of the 24 million Americans who were using the Atkins Diet at the time?
Without a clear understanding of the causes of obesity, it is difficult to identify an effective solution. Many of the recommendations of the report relate to the renewed promotion of ‘healthy eating’ and physical activity and on encouraging the food industry to be more responsible when advertising energy-dense foods. These are laudable recommendations, in that they may contribute to a small incremental improvement in obesity rates. Sadly however, they will not bring about the step change that is so badly needed. Focusing on reducing calories and / or increasing exercise is not the answer. Halting the obesity trend can only be achieved by recognizing that refined carbohydrates and their addictive nature are the real causes of the epidemic.