Low fat diets and exercise are pointless for those wanting to lose weight and obese people should simply eat less, a former shadow health minister told the House of Lords yesterday. Lord McColl, emeritus professor of surgery at Guys Hospital in London, warned that current health advice to avoid fat was ‘false and misleading’ and was fuelling the obesity epidemic.
Speaking at a House of Lords debate, the former surgeon warned that exercising was useless against the huge levels of calories from carbohydrates and sugars that people are now consuming. He warned that the obesity epidemic was as bad for public health as the 1919 flu epidemic.
“In the UK the Department of Health and Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) maintains for many years that the obesity epidemic was due to lack of exercise,” he told peers.
“It’s a pity that the 500 people employed by Nice didn’t think to go into the gymnasium get on a machine and exercise to see how few calories you actually burn off. One can pedal away on one of those machines for half an hour and only two or three hundred calories are burned up. One has to run miles to take a pound of fat off.
“The whole subject has been bedevilled by all sorts of theories about the course of the obesity; genetics, epigenetic, psychological disturbances. None of them is the cause of the obesity epidemic. One fact remains. It is impossible to be obese unless one is eating too many calories.”
In May the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration called for a major overhaul of dietary guidelines saying 30 years of urging people to adopt low-fat diets was having ‘disastrous health consequences.’
Their report claimed the low-fat and low-cholesterol message, which has been official policy in the UK since 1983, was based on “flawed science” and had resulted in an increased consumption of junk food and carbohydrates.
Lord McColl said eating fat was important because it kept people feeling fuller for longer, and advised overweight people to start adding fat into their diet.
“Fat enters the small intestine and greatly delays the emptying of the stomach,” he told peers.
“As the stomach emptying is delayed it gives the feeling that one has had enough to eat. Later when the fat has been absorbed the stomach then starts to empty again, It’s a beautifully balance mechanism which tends to prevent us from eating too much and prevents us from getting obese.”
Researchers at Imperial College recently found that Britons are on course to be the fattest in Europe within a decade, with almost four in 10 people predicted to be dangerously overweight by 2025. Earlier this week, Sir Simon Stevens the chief executive of the NHS said the obesity crisis was now costing more than the police and fire brigade combined.
“Obesity and its related illness is costing the country a fortune and it is not sustainable,” said Baroness Jenkin who called the debate in the Lords.
“If we don’t wake up to the extent of this crisis the NHS could end up bankrupt. Already enormous amounts of money are spent on disease which are entirely preventable
“The current dietary advice is confusing. The ‘Eat Well guide recommends potatoes, rice, pasta and other starchy carbs. Are we so sure that is good advice? We feed starchy crops to fatten animals so why would they not have the same effect on us?”
Health minister Baroness Chisholm said: “There is no point going to an exercise class or a gym then going around the corner for a fizzy drink a donut. It is this sort of culture that needs to change.
“Tackling obesity is an important issue. Obesity is a complex issue to which there is no single solution.
“I would like to underline that Public Health England bases it dietary guidelines on comprehensive reviews. They consultant with academics, health charities and public health professionals.”
Key conclusions | National Obesity Forum report
Eating fat does not make you fat
Evidence from multiple trials reveals that a higher-fat, lower carbohydrate diet is superior to a low-fat diet for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction
Stop counting calories
Calories from different foods have different metabolic effects on the body, so the cumulative calorie count is meaningless
You cannot outrun a bad diet
Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning, which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise
Saturated fat does not cause heart disease and full-fat dairy is likely to be protective
New meta-analysis of the evidence available forty years ago does not support dietary fat restrictions
Avoid at all costs: “processed foods labelled “low fat”, “lite”, “low cholesterol” or “proven to lower cholesterol”
No single piece of evidence exists that demonstrates reducing dietary saturated fat reduces cardiovascular events and death
Snacking will make you fat
The increase in meal frequency plays an equal if not larger role in obesity and has largely been ignored.