What sets science and the law apart from religion is that nothing is expected to be taken on faith. We're encouraged to ask whether the evidence actually supports what we're being told - or what we grew up believing - and we're allowed to ask whether we're hearing all the evidence or just some small prejudicial part of it. If our beliefs aren't supported by the evidence, then we're encouraged to alter our beliefs.
Even if these researchers do see the need to address the problem immediately, though they have obligations and legitimate interests elsewhere, including being funded for other research. With luck, the ideas discussed in Good Calories, Bad Calories may be rigorously tested in the next twenty years. If confirmed, it will be another decade or so after that, at least, before our public health authorities actively change their official explanation for why we get fat, how that leads to illness, and what we have to do to avoid or reverse those fates. As I was told by a professor of nutrition at New York University after on of my lectures, the kind of change I'm advocating could take a lifetime to be accepted.
According to the surgeon general, obesity today is officially an epidemic; it is arguably the most pressing public health problem we face, costing the health care system an estimated 0 billion a year. Three of every five Americans are overweight; one of every five is obese. The disease formerly known as adult-onset diabetes has had to be renamed Type II diabetes since it now occurs so frequently in children. A recent study in the predicts that a child born in 2000 has a one-in-three chance of developing diabetes. (An African American child's chances are two in five.) Because of diabetes and all the other health problems that accompany obesity, today's children may turn out to be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will actually be shorter than that of their parents. The problem is not limited to America: The United Nations reported that in 2000 the number of people suffering from overnutrition--a billion--had officially surpassed the number suffering from malnutrition--800 million.
What I tried to make clear in Good Calories, Bad Calories was that nutrition and obesity research lost its way after the Second World War with the evaporation of the European community of scientists and physicians that did pioneering work in those disciplines. It has since resisted all attempts to correct it. As a result, the individuals involved in this research have not only wasted decades of time, and effort, and money but have done incalculable damage along the way. Their beliefs have remained imperious to an ever-growing body of evidence that refutes them while being embraced by public-health authorities and translated into precisely the wrong advice about what to eat and, more important, what not to eat if we want to maintain a healthy weight and live a long and healthy life.
In any case, seeing care for certain groups as an excessive cost reflects an arguably perverse way of thinking about health care in terms of human need. [...] In other words, care for the sick is an economic burden only in health care systems where profit is the bottom line and public services are underfunded and politically unsupported - that is, systems in which only market logic is considered legitimate.
Associated with this weight gain are increased risks in adulthood for joint problems, angina, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and, ultimately, premature death. Outside of the human costs, health experts estimate that treating adult obesity-related ailments will cost the American economy nearly 50 billion in 2009.
Of all the dangerous ideas that health officials could have embraced while trying to understand why we get fat, they would have been hard-pressed to find one ultimately more damaging than calories-in/calories-out. That it reinforces what appears to be so obvious - obesity as the penalty for gluttony and sloth - is what makes it so alluring. But it's misleading and misconceived on so many levels that it's hard to imagine how it survived unscathed and virtually unchallenged for the last fifty years. It has done incalculable harm. Not only is this thinking at least partly responsible for the ever-growing numbers of obese and overweight in the world - while directing attention away from the real reasons we get fat - but it has served to reinforce the perception that those who get fat have no one to blame but themselves. That eating less invariably fails as a cure for obesity is rarely perceived as the single most important reason to make us question our assumptions, as Hilde Bruch suggested half a century ago. Rather, it is taken as still more evidence that the overweight and obese are incapable of following a diet and eating in moderation. And it put the blame for their physical condition squarely on their behavior, which couldn't be further from the truth.