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Sugar and carbs, not lack of exercise, driving obesity

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London: Excess sugar and carbs, and not lack of exercise, are behind the surge in obesity, according to scientists, including one of Indian-origin. In an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr Aseem Malhotra and two other experts said that it was time to “bust the myth” about exercise. While regular exercise was a key part of staving off diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia, its impact on obesity was minimal, the experts said.

“An obese person does not need to do one iota of exercise to lose weight, they just need to eat less. My biggest concern is that the messaging that is coming to the public suggests you can eat what you like as long as you exercise,” Malhotra said. “That is unscientific and wrong. You cannot outrun a bad diet,” Malhotra said.

Evidence now suggests that up to 40 per cent of those within a normal weight (BMI) range will none the less harbour harmful metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, researchers said.


But few people realise this, and many wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise, a perception that is firmly rooted in corporate marketing, said researchers. They describe the public relations tactics of the food industry as “chillingly similar to those of Big Tobacco,” which deployed denial, doubt, confusion and “bent scientists” to convince the public that smoking was not linked to lung cancer.

Public health messaging has unhelpfully focused on maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting, but it’s the source of the calories that matters, the researchers pointed out.

The prevalence of diabetes increases 11-fold for every 150 additional sugar calories consumed daily, compared with the equivalent amount of calories consumed as fat, they said. The evidence now suggests that carbs are no better, according to the researchers.

Recent research indicates that cutting down on dietary carbohydrate is the single most effective approach for reducing all of the features of the metabolic syndrome and should be the primary strategy for treating diabetes, with benefits occurring even in the absence of weight loss. Malhotra’s team suggests that those who want to avoid excess weight gain should adopt a diet that is high in fat but low on both sugar and carbohydrates.