Science writer Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat and possibly the country's most prominent critic of the reigning theories on the obesity epidemic, has founded a non-profit research outfit of his own, he writes in the journal Nature.
Under the headline "Treat obesity as physiology, not physics," he argues that the idea that obesity is simply a product of overeating and "calories in, calories out" has gotten us where we are today: Overweight or fat, many of us. He backs an alternate theory:
The alternative hypothesis — that obesity is a hormonal, regulatory defect — leads to a different prescription. In this paradigm, it is not excess calories that cause obesity, but the quantity and quality of carbohydrates consumed. The carbohydrate content of the diet must be rectified to restore health.
This conclusion is based on endocrinology that has been understood for 50 years: insulin regulates fat accumulation, and blood levels of insulin are effectively determined by carbohydrate intake. The more easily digestible are the carbohydrates we eat (the higher their glycaemic index) and the sweeter they are (the higher their fructose content) the higher are our blood insulin levels, and the more fat accumulates.
If this is true, it suggests that the obesity epidemic was caused at least in part by the research community's failure to understand the nature of the disease, and by the food industry's exploitation of that failure.
But is it true? Or is it the case, as conventional wisdom has it, that these competing hypotheses of obesity have been rigorously tested, and the energy-balance hypothesis has simply won out?
That's what Taubes and colleague Dr. Peter Attia will be trying to figure out at the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) in San Diego. So far, they've found a lot of flaws in previous research, and are aiming to organize some studies of their own. Readers, bets on what they'll find?
This program aired on December 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.