Another Area Where the ‘Common Wisdom’ is wrong: Diet and Exercise

The most recent issue of Scientific American features an article that claims to be what science tells us about the current obesity epidemic, and what to do about it. Unfortunately, there is very little science in the article, and lots of wishful thinking, such as finding ways to keep everybody hungry all the time.

The author’s thesis is that simple overeating is what causes Americans and others to get fat. Their solution is the usual mantra: eat less meat and more grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods, and do lots of aerobic exercise. The problem is that this prescription isn’t based on history, and it isn’t based on science. There are no studies that show that that sort of diet and exercise regime actually leads to losing any significant amount of body fat.  (I do NOT consider losing 6 pounds of fat after a year of near-starvation and 20 or more hours of aerobic activity to be a significant weight loss. My bathroom scale can have me losing that amount after a large bowel movement or two!)

In fact, almost any farmer can tell you that if you want to make your cattle fat, then you should feed them lots of grains, instead of their normal diet of grass.

What’s more, the author manages to write an entire article about obesity without once mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’ that has changed many formerly fit pre-colonial people into people who are simultaneously malnourished and obese, all over the world.

The big change has been from high-fat, relatively meat-rich diets to more Western diets consisting of cheap, starchy vegetables and grains filled with carbohydrates that humans did NOT evolve to eat. Over and over again, native societies – like our own Native Americans here in the USA – that have made this dietary shift have developed diabetes, obesity, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, strokes, dental cavities, and much more in their adult populations, while the children simultaneously suffer from serious dietary deficiencies, often being on the verge of starvation.

Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, it’s hard to think of people who work harder, all day long, than most African women, and they eat a diet high in grains, beans, and starchy vegetables and fruit (yams and plantains, for example). Yet many of them are fat or obese.

It seems to me (though I am not an expert at all) that it’s much more likely that the USDA nutritional pyramid, and the current, anti-scientific propaganda in favor of low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, are causing, rather than curing, the current world-wide obesity epidemic. The author of the article apparently thinks that high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets are mere fads to be dismissed out of hand; he doesn’t even analyze any evidence in favor of, or against, their effectiveness at all.

How can a major article in 2011 that purports to be on ‘what science teaches us about obesity’ fail to even acknowledge Gary Taubes’ ground-breaking review and synthesis, now in two books and several articles, concerning the relevant literature on nutrition and obesity? Or are all the studies that were read and cited by Taubes also mere fads? You can look at some of his articles and books here, here, and here, and you can find his blog here.

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