Michelle Obama was on Good Morning America on Tuesday, February 9th to discuss her war on adolescent obesity. She calls it the 'Let's Move' campaign. I highly commend her effort and desire to end this epidemic. You can watch the segment here.
While her heart and soul are right on the money, unfortunately, her information isn't.
Physical activity is obviously important for kids. But when it comes to obesity, research indicates that lack of sufficient physical activity hasn't a thing to do with why children are obese nor does added activity help reduce fat in obese children.
This is a fact folks. It seems counter intuitive right? But it seems so only because we have bought the idea, hook line and sinker, that exercise burns a significant amount of calories and that excessive calorie intake specifically, from fat, is the cause of obesity.
Mark Twain said, "The truth is easy to kill. But a lie well told is immortal."
The lie well told is that obesity is an outcome of sloth and eating too much food, specifically too much fat.
What's also interesting, to me at least, is that all the blame for inactivity gets put on technology. TV, video games, computers, etc. are all vilified while playing chess, reading books and building models for hours at a time are, apparently, perfectly alright. You never hear anyone shout "We've got to get our kids moving more and away from books, chess and practicing their musical instruments!"
When I watch my kids watch TV, they are almost always wrestling and doing handstands and cartwheels. When they read they are statuesque. When they play Wii, they are jumping around all over the place. When they play chess, they're downright immobile.
In the text book Childhood Obesity: Contemporary Issues the authors discuss physical activity and obesity citing that some obese children are slightly less active than lean children (but not always) and that girls are less active than boys. Interestingly enough, the amount of activity that lean girls engage in is less than that of the obese boys. If physical inactivity is a cause of obesity, why then aren't all girls obese?
According to the author, "It is thus possible to be an obese, yet active child or a normal weight but relatively sedentary child."
It doesn't add up does it? We keep chanting the mantra of the need for more physical activity in children when science tells us it isn't the answer to obesity nor is it the cause. So what is?
Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation. Let that statement ruminate in your mind for a spell. Before you read the rest of this blog, really let that idea sink in deep. I'll say it again, obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation.
The question is, why do some people create and store more fat than others?
Dr. Richard Feinman, professor of cellular biology at SUNY Downstate Medical School and president of the Nutrition and Metabolism Society puts it this way:
The importance of the glucose-insulin axis in modulating the response to fat is established and forms the basis for the biochemistry that I teach medical students. Carbohydrates directly or indirectly affect whether or not fat is stored. This is in fact admitted to me in private by people who continue to defend the traditional doctrine that, in the end, says "you are what you eat" which is not real science. Metabolism is a process and, in the area of fat storage, the process is controlled primarily by carbohydrates which, beyond their role as a fuel source, direct the disposition of fat to be stored or oxidized. This is what we teach medical students and has to be the basis for any attempt to stop the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, especially since it is established that the latter is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance.
In other words, two different people who eat the same number of total calories and perform the same level of physical activity can wind up with completely different body compositions - one fatter and one leaner. The difference is their metabolism and that is controlled substantially by carbohydrates.
In other, other words, you are not what you eat - you are what your body does with what you eat.
Obese children are so because of what their bodies are doing with what they are eating. They store more of their ingested calories as fat rather than using the calories for fuel and bodily maintenance. This occurs in people whose bodies are insensitive to insulin and secrete more of this fat storage hormone in response to elevated blood sugar. For some, it doesn't take much carbohydrate to elevate their insulin levels sky high.
Eating fat does not stimulate the secretion of insulin. Blaming dietary fat as a partner in the crime of obesity is only valid if carbohydrate is at the scene too. Carbohydrates are the culprit - the true villain in the midst. And since the focus has been on getting fat out of our diets, especially our kids', what sorts of calories have replaced the fats? You guessed it - carbohydrates.
Again, Dr. Feinman:
The deleterious effects of fat have been measured in the presence of high carbohydrate. A high fat diet in the presence of high carbohydrate is different than a high fat diet in the presence of low carbohydrate.
So Michelle, my plea to you is this: Please refocus your efforts to help end adolescent obesity by taking the time to look at the hard science on the subject rather than continue to spread, however innocently, the misinformation that physical activity and the current government issue food pyramid (~80% carbohydrate) are viable methods to ending this ever growing, easily reversible condition. As the late Carl Sagan said "Science as a candle in the dark."
Our children desperately need us to break free from this paradigm paralysis. We need to get the right information into the minds of the American public as well as the rest of the world. I'm at your service and am happy to help.