Trimming the Fat Off Obesity: Why Cutting 6 Trillion Calories Didn’t Work

Author: Keegan Sheridan  •  Date: November 27, 2014  •  Appears in: News

Trimming the Fat Off Obesity: Why Cutting 6 Trillion Calories Didn’t Work

Earlier this month, I read an article titled, “Why the Food Industry’s 6 Trillion Calorie Cut Hasn’t Made a Dent”. 6 trillion calories is a compelling number and one that I would expect is big enough to create change in what one commenter to the article called America’s “fat diseases”. I was intrigued.

Perhaps some of you will remember that in 2010, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), a group of the biggest and most well-known food manufacturers, voluntarily pledged to collectively sell 1 trillion fewer calories in the U.S. marketplace by 2012 and 1.5 trillion fewer calories by 2015. Not only did they meet this pledge, they exceeded it, selling 6.4 trillion fewer calories, which translates to a reduction of 78 calories per US citizen per day.

If, as the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) states, the entire obesity epidemic can be explained by 100-150 calories per day, then cutting 78 calories sounds pretty good. Given all of this we should see decreasing rates of overweight and obesity in our population. But, as you already know from the title of this piece, that’s not what happened, quite the contrary in fact.

Not a single state in the country experienced a decrease in obesity rates during this period, in fact, rates of adult obesity rose in six states in 2013 (Delaware, Tennessee, Alaska, Wyoming, New Jersey, and Idaho). Today one in every five people in every state in our nation meets the criteria for obese, leaving them at significant risk for other serious diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

So, why didn’t the reduction in calories have the intended and expected effect? A 6 trillion dollar question perhaps and one that, sadly, the article didn’t answer.

I’ve long disagreed with the “calories in – calories out = weight” equation. I don’t think it’s that simple, and anyone who’s spent hours dieting and sweating on a treadmill will likely agree. Sleep, stress, hormonal function and balance and likely a variety of other factors need to be considered in this equation. I’m confident science will eventually catch up and confirm what I and many others have seen in practice.

But specific to this article, I believe the author missed a more obvious issue, one of food quality. Even if food manufactures reformulate food to decrease fat and total calories, many packaged foods are still full (if not more so after reformulation) of false ingredients that intensify flavor, optimize something called “mouth feel”…basically play tricks with science to give the sensation of food in the absence of actual real food ingredients.

As a society we have been trained to take a highly reductionistic approach to nutrition. The idea that we should be able to selectively remove a nutrient like fat or eliminate calories from a food all together is insane. Along the same lines, to blame a nutrient in isolation for our health issues is equally irrational. Yet, on every level, from the way we conduct research to our government’s nutrition regulations and education campaigns, we take a reductionistic approach. “Fat is bad. Eliminate fat.” No, wait, “Fat is good, carbs are bad. Eliminate carbs.”

Here’s a radical idea: what if we accept that the Earth developed food with ratios of nutrients for a specific purpose that is beneficial to people, animals and itself? And that, instead of trying to fuss with these ingredients, we just eat them the way they are made…fat, calories and all? I’m not surprised cutting 6 trillion calories didn’t make a dent. The saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” feels appropriate as an explanation in this case, although a slight change, “You can’t have your 100 calorie snack pack cake and still lose weight” may be an appropriate tweak.

Bottom line, until we become more realistic about what food is, what it isn’t and the ratio of calories, fat and other nutrients (both good and bad) that come along with those real ingredients, we will continue to try to cheat the system and in the process cheat our own health.

Image by The 100 Calorie Blog

Keegan Sheridan

Author

Keegan Sheridan is a naturopathic physician, mom and food industry insider who uses her formal education and training to improve health from the industry out. Her expertise lies at the intersection of emerging science, policy and consumer insights. You can find her translating from the front lines of the Food Movement through her website, blog and Twitter feed at www.keegansheridan.com
Read more by Keegan Sheridan

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