Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Obesity in USA: It's not the calorie count, It's the sugar

Conventional Wisdom: The obesity crisis in our country is directly linked to overeating and a sedentary life style. A recent article in Newsweek -- Why the campaign to stop America's obesity crisis keeps failing -- says not so fast. Eating less and engaging in more physical activity does have enormous health benefits:

The results are fascinating: 20% of all deaths of people 35 and older were attributed to a lack of physical activity. That's moredeathsthan can be attributed tosmoking. Looking at specific diseases, the risk of dying fromcancerincreased 45% for men and 28% for women due to lack ofphysical activity. The risk of dying from respiratory ailments was 92% higher for men and 75% higher forwomen. The risk of dying fromheart diseasewas 52% higher for men and 28% higher for women, all due to a lack of physical activity. It turns out that being a couch potato can kill you, literally.  source

However, according this new research, our obesity epidemic is rooted more in what we eat, as opposed to how much we eat. In other words, all calories are not created equal. And the number one villain is sugar:

At the moment, the government efforts to curb obesity and diabetes avoid the all-too-apparent fact, as Hilde Bruch pointed out more than half a century ago, that exhorting obese people to eat less and exercise more doesn’t work, and that this shouldn’t be an indictment of their character but of the value of the advice. 

By institutionalizing this advice as public-health policy, we waste enormous amounts of money and effort on programs that might make communities nicer places to live—building parks and making green markets available—but that we have little reason to believe will make anyone thinner. When I asked CDC Director Thomas Frieden about this, he pointed to two recent reports, from Massachusetts and New York, documenting small but real decreases in childhood-obesity levels. He then admitted that they had no idea why this had happened. “I’m doing everything I can do,” he said, “to assure that we rigorously monitor the efforts underway so we can try to understand what works and what doesn’t.”

If the latest research is any indication, sugar may have been the primary problem all along. Back in the 1980s, the FDA gave sugar a free pass based on the idea that the evidence wasn’t conclusive. While the government spent hundreds of millions trying to prove that salt and saturated fat are bad for our health, it spent virtually nothing on sugar. Had it targeted sugar then, instead of waiting for an obesity and diabetes epidemic for motivation, our entire food culture and the options that go with it might have changed as they did with low-fat and low-salt foods.

So what should we eat? The latest clinical trials suggest that all of us would benefit from fewer (if any) sugars and fewer refined grains (bread, pasta) and starchy vegetables (potatoes). This was the conventional wisdom through the mid-1960s, and then we turned the grains and starches into heart-healthy diet foods and the USDA enshrined them in the base of its famous Food Guide Pyramid as the staples of our diet. That this shift coincides with the obesity epidemic is probably not a coincidence. As for those of us who are overweight, experimental trials, the gold standard of medical evidence, suggest that diets that are severely restricted in fattening carbohydrates and rich in animal products—meat, eggs, cheese—and green leafy vegetables are arguably the best approach, if not the healthiest diet to eat. Not only does weight go down when people eat like this, but heart disease and diabetes risk factors are reduced. Ethical arguments against meat-eating are always valid; health arguments against it can no longer be defended. for more information 

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