By Malcolm Kendrick, doctor and author who works as a GP in the National Health Service in England. His blog can be read here and his book, ‘Doctoring Data – How to Sort Out Medical Advice from Medical Nonsense,’ is available here.
New research suggests that four billion people globally will be overweight in 2050. This trend can be traced back to the ‘low-fat, high-carb’ guidelines first issued in the 70s, and should prompt a major U-turn on dietary advice.
A recent report from the Potsdam Institute predicts that by 2050 there will be four billion overweight people in the world, with one-and-a-half billion of them obese. This is not entirely surprising. The world has been getting fatter for years, and things do not seem to be slowing down.
This Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) graph, which looks at the rise in overweight adults in a number of different countries, shows that the trend seems inexorably upward.
Why is this happening? There are undoubtedly a number of factors at play here. Socio-economic status plays a significant part in many countries. Those with poorer educational attainment are more likely to be overweight, an association that is much stronger in women than men, for reasons that are not clear.
It is also fascinating to look at where obesity levels are highest in the US, essentially in the poorer southern States.
When you analyse the data, it is clear that obesity is not evenly distributed and there is a very clear difference between rich and poor. Why? That is probably beyond the scope of this article. Instead I am going to consider something else that I think is having a significant impact: dietary guidelines.
At one time, there was no such thing as a dietary guideline. The first was one was published in 1976, in the US. The UK followed suit, then much of the rest of the world. Before this, people ate pretty much whatever they wanted. Imagine that! There was no one to tell you what you should, or should not, eat. How on Earth did they survive?
The guidelines were not developed in an attempt to reduce the rates of obesity, which was not considered a major problem at the time. They were designed to protect against heart disease, which was the major killer. It still is, although the rates have fallen. The guidelines themselves promoted a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
Prior to 1976, there was not really a major problem with weight or obesity in the US. Then came the guidelines, and from that point onwards, things changed, as the rising obesity levels in the US demonstrated.
In the UK, there were no dietary guidelines until 1980, at which point exactly the same upturn…
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