How The Government Has Caused America's Obesity Problem


Obesity is perhaps one of the biggest problems society faces today. Public health advocates have argued that the condition not only carries serious health risks, but that America's swelling waist lines will drive up the cost of medical care and even affect our ability to compete in the global marketplace. Given these implications, it's important that we address the root cause of obesity. But we haven't.

While blaming lack of exercise, overeating, and (this week) poor parenting, the real culprit has been almost entirely overlooked: The awful dietary advice dispensed by mainstream medical science over the last 30 years. If we want a healthier, slimmer population, we have to stop eating the sugar-laden diet so many experts have recommended to us.

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) dietary guidelines are the gold standard for healthy eating, according to most experts. The problem is that these recommendations promote a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet based on grains like bread and rice. These kinds of foods consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. When you digest carbohydrates, they are converted into sugar in your bloodstream, the same sugar found in ice cream, soda, potato chips, and all the other junk foods most people would recognize as unhealthy. Since high blood sugar is toxic, your body produces a hormone called insulin to bring it down to a reasonable level. The trouble with this, however, is that insulin brings down your blood sugar by converting it to fat and sending it into your fat cells to be stored. There are many problems with this process.

For More Analysis On The Government's Relationship With Obesity, Read "Why David Frum Is Wrong About Obesity"

When people eat a high-carbohydrate diet like this, not only do they unintentionally avoid the fats and proteins their bodies need to properly function, but they “starve at the cellular level,” as Dr. Michael Eades puts it, because what they are eating is stored as fat and doesn't provide the energy they need. The result over time is a steady increase in body weight. And as health writer and documentary film maker Tom Naughton explains, it shouldn't be surprising that “... the rise in obesity began around the same time the so-called experts began telling everyone to cut back on fat and eat more carbohydrates.”

Human evolution offers some interesting insights as well. While many experts today express skepticism when writers like Eades or Naughton suggest that low-carbohydrate diets can improve our health, those are the sorts of diets humans have maintained for most of our existence. And like the increase in obesity, rates of heart disease didn't shoot up until the push in the middle of the 20th century to remove saturated fat from our diets; the reason being that humans have not evolved to thrive on grains.

Overeating, little exercise, and poor parenting certainly have a role in all this, but in light of the above information, that role is not as significant as we have been told. People over-eat not because they lack self control, but because they've been told to eat a diet that promotes hunger. Similarly, the unwillingness of most Americans to exercise is not just due to laziness. One of the results of the cellular starvation described above is a massive decrease in energy levels. Parents certainly don't always feed their children healthy foods, but even when they feed them expert-approved diets, they are still giving their children foods that will eventually make them fat.

This is undoubtedly a controversial hypothesis, but that need not bother anybody because it is well-supported by the available evidence. A study published in 2007 looking at three different diets found that the low-carbohydrate diet tested led to twice as much weight loss and resulted in a greater reduction of risk factors for heart disease compared to the other diets. Another study found that low-carbohydrate diets are as effective as low-fat diets in helping people lose weight. Science writer Gary Taubes argues that the reason these oft-derided diets – Atkins, for example – work so well is because they address the root of the problem; they take into account the nutritional quality of what people eat, which ends of up reducing the quantity of calories they eat.

It's not good enough to say that fat people are fat because they eat too much, as everybody from the fast food lobby to the American Medical Association suggests. If we're going to reduce obesity in this country, we have to explain why people eat too much and specifically how they can stop. Dropping the federal government's misguided dietary recommendations would be a good start.

Photo Credit: malingering