Study finds that overweight children eat the LEAST fat and most sugar

While it is widely held in the medical and dietetic communities that eating fat is one sure way to become fat, there are for why this just ain’t so. Some of the key explanations for why fat is not necessarily fattening were covered in a previous blog [1]. Despite the dearth of evidence against fat found naturally in the diet, fat-phobia is alive and well today, of course. Two conditions in which fat is often implicated are metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.

Both of these conditions have as a feature impaired function of insulin ” the hormone chiefly responsible for reducing blood sugar levels. It is generally believed that the more insulin someone secretes over time, the more likely the body is to become ‘numbed’ to the effects of insulin – known as ‘insulin resistance’ in the trade.

Before we go on, let’s get something absolutely clear: insulin is secreted in response to rises in levels of sugar in the bloodstream, and the vast majority of this comes from sugars and starches in the diet.

The reason that this is important is because we are often told by doctors and nutritional scientists that the cause of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes is fat. The ‘logic’ goes something like this: eating fat causes obesity which causes insulin resistance which leads to Type 2 diabetes/metabolic syndrome.

Except that fat doesn’t seem to be a factor in obesity.

And if insulin resistance is the problem, why cut back on fat? Would it not make more sense to reduce intake of foods that cause insulin secretion and therefore increase the risk of insulin resistance? Surely, cutting back on carbs (sugars and starches) has to be a better bet for those wanting to prevent or reverse insulin resistance?

But this is not just theory ” research is now starting to mount up which supports this concept. Just a couple of weeks ago my blog was devoted to some UK research which found that higher consumption of CARBS (not fat) is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome in adults [2].

Now, a research study has just been published which looked at the association between diet, weight and metabolic syndrome in children.

In a Swedish study, the diets and lifestyles of 182 four-year-olds was assessed. About 20 of these children were found to be officially ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ [3]. The researcher who performed this study, Malin Haglund Garemo, found that a lot of girls in this study were already showing signs of metabolic syndrome, in the form of weight gain around the middle of the body and disrupted insulin function.

But here’s the kicker:

Children who ate the MOST FAT were the ones LEAST likely to be overweight

Children who consumed the MOST SUGAR were the ones MOST likely to be overweight

Tellingly, the study’s author is quoted as saying, Such results would go against the common perception that fat causes increased insulin production as a result insulin resistance.  I’ll say. And another thing I’d like to say is that the notion that fat is the major provoker of insulin resistance was always illogical.

Why has the establishment got so hung up on fat? Well, no doubt some researchers and doctors are genuinely well-meaning have simply been duped into believing that fat is the major dietary spectre. My sense is that there has been a concerted effort by certain factions within the farming and food industry to divert attention away from blood sugar- and insulin-disruptive foods such as bread, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.

Yet, common sense and now at least some science dictates that it is these starchy staples, not fat, that are the true culprits in insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. The chances of achieving optimal health and weight by making such foods a cornerstone of the diet are very slim indeed.


1. blog post of 8th November 2006

2. blog post of 5th January 2007

3. Garemo M H. Nutrition and Health in 4-year-olds in a Swedish Well-Educated Community. Published by the Swedish Research Council

9 Responses to Study finds that overweight children eat the LEAST fat and most sugar

  1. Audrey 31 January 2007 at 11:08 am #

    Last night on BBC 2 there was a programme called “Don’t Die Young” presented by Dr Alice Roberts, a senior teaching fellow in anatomy at Bristol University. The subject was the heart.

    At one point she ate a takeaway pack of chips with cheese grated on top. An hour later, she was in a laboratory. She had some blood taken and centrifuged. The blood appeared to have a layer of fat on top, which she admitted was plasma, but it did “have fat in it”. I think this image of “fat” rather than plasma will stay with people.

    I know, Dr Briffa that you said in an introductory blog, that you were a dunce at anatomy, but I go plump for knowledge of physiology and nutrition in a doctor.

    Dr Roberts then went round a supermarket with a nutrition expert and they castigated saturated fat and praised olive oil margarine.

    In the programme they had another “go” at cholesterol.


  2. Dr John Briffa 31 January 2007 at 2:37 pm #

    I think the BBC always takes the ‘safe’ option with food and nutrition. The attitude is generally to present prevailing ‘wisdom’ rather than challenge it.
    Here’s a story you might like, Audrey:
    I once was doing some filming with the beeb in a supermarket. The subject was sausages. The producer seemed to have assumed I would come down hard on them because of their saturated fat/cholesterol content. When I flatly refused to perpetuate this particular myth, filming was abandoned!
    I have not been asked back! (obviously)

  3. Audrey 31 January 2007 at 4:41 pm #

    I found the story quite sinister. I thought the BBC was the upholder of free speech.

    I hope you got paid!


  4. Neil 31 January 2007 at 7:42 pm #

    Saw the programme, enjoyed the bit of anatomy, most of the rest was a yawn or just plain mainstream guff. The nutrion expert sue baic is a well qualified lady, has her own business and website, I discovered. Needless to say, nothing of interest seen in a quick browse.

    I’ve just borrowed a copy of your book Body Wise. Haven’t read it yet, just a quick flick through before lights out. I got the impression that since you wrote it a few years ago, you’ve become more outspoken on the lack of harm from SFA and the cholesterol nonsense??? Not a criticism, I used to take Simvastatin religiously!

  5. John Briffa 31 January 2007 at 7:53 pm #

    Neil – you’re absolutely right! I have changed my stance very considerably on sat fat and cholesterol in the light of more recent evidence.
    BodyWise, I’m afraid, is hopelessly out of date.
    I have a new book coming out (The True You Diet) in April which sets the record straight in no uncertain terms!

  6. Shirley Bright 2 February 2007 at 9:16 pm #

    Perhaps the BBc is beginning to see the error of its ways? In “The Truth About Food” (BBC 2 Thursday 1 February) they admittedly took a long time to say it but the near conclusion was that dairy fat – possibly “low” fat – which contained high levels of calcium, led to less fat being stored in the body and so to weight loss. This seems to sort of be agreeing with your view?

  7. Carol 5 February 2007 at 10:15 am #

    The fat question is another area where Joe Public will again be confused – and then carry on eating double cheese burgers, safe in the knowledge that fatty foods are now ‘good for you’. The devil is in the details, which is always missed.
    The longest living peoples on the planet don’t eat large plates of fatty meat and then sit around doing nothing. Apart from a few exceptions like the Massai, most long living people and few remaining hunter gatherer tribes eat meat sparingly, fish and unprocessed plant foods plentifully, and stay lean and active. Meat from grass fed animals has a different fat composition from intensively reared cattle fed on soya oil cake.
    I have no doubt that the rise in intake in processed grains and sugar is a major factor, but have concerns about this new bandwagon rolling through the ‘nutrition world’ again – now we’re being told to eat lots of fatty meat and don’t do much aerobic exercise. That’s what a lot of people in the west have been doing and look at our obesity figures.

  8. Neil 5 February 2007 at 11:56 pm #

    The best exercise, (apart from keeping active) for heart health would appear to interval training, i.e. short periods of intense exercise rather than long sustained less intense exercise, according to what i have read lately. Maybe the best thing to do is some of both??

    Carol, what sort of price premium is there on grass-fed animals? Sounds like the right sort of meat, and are keen on it, but can most people afford it, even if they can find it? I presume this is different meat to organic?

  9. Chris cashin 25 February 2007 at 11:07 pm #

    oh dear having another go here – dietitians suggest to clients that they cut back on fat from rubbish and sugar. Funnily enough they do not endorse alot of comercial low fat products as they contain double the sugar content!

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