Katherine Rich: new study exposes the fat lie


The Food & Grocery Council has long acknowledged that obesity is an increasing problem. The issue is what we do about it.

Some believe that if we stop eating sugar, or significantly reduce it, the problem will be solved. Some believe it’s a case of heaps more exercise. Others believe it’s a combination of both. I believe it’s a combination of a balanced, healthy diet coupled with a sensible exercise regime.

The argument against sugar being the sole culprit is based on two facts:

Fact 1: The OCED’s Health Care Data 2009 report shows that between 1997 and 2007 the obesity rate among Kiwi adults jumped from 19% to 26.5%.

Fact 2: The 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey shows that between 1997 and 2008/09 the total sugars intake by adults dropped from 114g per day to 107g per day.  

So sugar alone cannot be the problem. Most nutritionists believe it’s a matter of energy in versus energy out – if you expend more energy than you consume, you are less likely to be overweight.

Last month research was released that points to inactivity being behind rising obesity in the UK. And, with a similar lifestyle there’s no reason the findings are not applicable here.

csThe main conclusion of the research, which was conducted by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, found that the rise in obesity has been primarily caused by a decline in physical activity.

The research, called The Fat Lie, used figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the Office for National Statistics, and the British Heart Foundation to debunk “the popular belief that the rise in obesity … is the result of increased calorie consumption in general, and sugar in particular”.

It found that the evidence indicates that per capita consumption of sugar, fat and calories has been falling for decades at the same time people have become less active.

The key statistics it uses include:

  • Since 2002, the average body weight of adults has increased by 2kg. This has coincided with a decline in calorie consumption of over 4% and a decline in sugar consumption of nearly 7.5%.
  • Britons walk an average of 179 miles (288km) a year, down from 255 miles in 1976, and also cycle less; averaging 42 miles a year compared to 51 miles in 1976. Some 40% report they spend no time even walking at work. The rise of office jobs and labour-saving devices means people have fewer opportunities for physical activity at work and at home.

Christopher Snowdon said that as a result of the research “campaigners promoting a healthy lifestyle should refocus their efforts towards encouraging exercise and away from a war on food. Anti-market policies aimed at the whole population such as fat taxes will do nothing for the nation’s health.”

  • Christopher Snowdon was in New Zealand last month to talk to FGC members on sugar taxes. The Fat Lie can be accessed in the Latest News section of the FGC website here.