Why government and food industry initiatives are unlikely to help curb obesity

Last Friday I was invited on to the BBC Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours to discuss the UK Government’s scheme to shave off 5 billion calories from our daily intake (about 83 calories a person, apparently), and the role the food industry has here. You can listen to the broadcast here (starts at the 14.53 mark).

These are the main points I attempted to get over in a discussion with the presenter (Peter White) and a representative of the food industry (Terry Jones).

1. applying the calorie principle (e.g. eating less) has been found to be quite ineffective for the purposes of sustained weight loss, so it does not make sense to base interventions on this strategy.

2. Taking an unhealthy food and reducing the calories it contains by, say, reducing fat in it or the portion size does not magically transform it into a healthy food. A crappy chocolate bar with 250 calories in it rather than 280 is still a crappy chocolate bar.

3. Processed foods are often disruptive to blood sugar, which can drive hunger. Some are also very ‘rewarding’, which can also drive overeating. Even if calorie intake is controlled momentarily, there’s a good chance that people will go on to eat more foods later on as hunger bites.

4. The chances of these initiatives working is virtually nil, in my opinion. 5. We don’t need the Government’s or food-industry’s possibly well-meaning but wrong-headed ‘help’ to control our weight and attain better health. If we want these benefits, what we need to do is eat real food, and eat it regularly enough to ensure we never get too hungry (which makes healthy eating relatively easy).

That’s it in a nutshell.

9 Responses to Why government and food industry initiatives are unlikely to help curb obesity

  1. Michael 22 June 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Perfectly put. As usual, common sense…but will it prevail?

  2. Pippa 22 June 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I am living proof that your views work. Before reading your Escape the diet trap, I was eating a supposedly healthy granola for breakfast (but laced with fructose), a high-carb wholemeal sandwich for lunch and by tea time was craving cake & biscuits. Things went downhill from there as my blood sugar continued to soar. Feeling fatigued and starving by dinner time, I had no energy to cook a proper meal, so a processed meal was shoved in the oven, eating crisps while I waited for it to heat up. The final thing was an over-whelming desire for something sweet, so high-sugar, high-carb puds were next on the menu. Needless to say I felt terrible, increasingly depressed, tired, hot after eating and piling on the pounds.
    Now, on your low-carb eating plan, I only buy natural, unprocessed food: fish, nuts, meat, eggs, yoghurt and green & salad vegetables & all sorts of berries.. My food has never tasted so good; it is no effort to prepare; I have lost two stone in weight without deprivation; I am never starving hungry; I have no cravings whatsoever; my spending on food has gone down by over £25 a month despite buying mostly organic produce; and most of all, I feel fantastic & full of energy.
    I will stay on this way of eating for the rest of my life now. Very, very happy.

    A reduced calorie diet is doomed to fail. I have tried it countless times over the years. I cannot sustain it over time, in fact often caved in after a week. It also increases cravings.

  3. Graham 22 June 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    It is intervention of government, giving dietary recommendations, that got us all to where the entire civilized world is one big fat camp.

  4. Dr John Briffa 22 June 2012 at 6:41 pm #


    I don’t believe people need to eat regularly per se, just regularly enough to ensure their appetite does not run out of control.

  5. Matt Staples 23 June 2012 at 1:49 am #

    I’m a bit puzzled about your emphasis on regular eating whilst you have made positive comments about intermittent fasting.

    How do you see this working?

  6. jake3_14 24 June 2012 at 4:27 am #

    Over in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s decreed that restaurants can’t sell sugared sodas larger than 16 oz. in an attempt to legislate health. The show Marketplace Money, over two weeks, had a point-counterpoint argument about this edict, and I made a point similar to Dr. Briffa’s (though much less eloquently). In fact, I posted a link to this blog post in the comments section of the pro-regulation pundit.

  7. Chris Hilder 24 June 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    I agree with you about Govt and the food Industry John, but I believe that we do need Government to be engaged – particularly in the form of the NHS for instance – so they stop giving out the wrong information and to start to provide the right information. The food pyramid for instance is a scandal.

    As you know I have been lobbying for the Carbohydrates Working Group to advocate a low carb diet. Anne Milton (under sec of state for health) seems to have changed her mind. Hopefully she read your book as I recommended 😉

  8. Jenny Hargreaves 26 June 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Dr Briffa. Just to let you know I gave your book ‘Waist Disposal’ to my brother in law in South Africa. My sister, who has been helping him to implement it, emailed me yesterday to say that a well known Dr Tim Knoakes in SA is using the exact same regime for all the athletes he treats. Well Done – I will help to spread the word.

  9. George Super BootCamps 17 September 2012 at 11:47 am #

    In reply to Matt Staples,

    Matt, what we tend to find when teaching people how to integrate fasting into their life is that as long as you take it slowly you don’t get hunger problems. What I mean by this is that when you gradually increase the number of hours you fast, you learn how to accomodate your hunger. This either means you simply don’t get any hungrier (the majority of people), or the hunger doesn’t cause you problems. In fact, many people find that they are better able to make good decisions about what to eat after a fast, something that could seem counter-intuitive, but is frequently the case. I think that, in part, the thing that makes the decision making process easier is that your boundaries are more concrete when fasting; you’re simply not allowed to eat, therefore you actually don’t have to give in to any desires.

    I hope this helps, please feel free to ask any more questions or have a look at any of the articles I’ve written about I.F. on my blog.

    Yours in fasting and health,

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