Obesity caused mainly by inactivity, not sugar

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Obesity Nutrition

Sugar is not the primary cause for the rise in obesity, according to Snowdon
Sugar is not the primary cause for the rise in obesity, according to Snowdon
The rise in obesity in the UK has been primarily caused by a decline in physical activity, not by increased calorie and sugar consumption, according to the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Public health campaigners have attributed Britain’s obesity ‘epidemic’ to increased availability of junk food. However, all the evidence indicated that per capita consumption of sugar, fat and calories had been falling in the UK for decades, IEA claimed in a report.

In the report The Fat Lie​ it studied government figures indicating that people had reduced the number of calories they consumed, but had reduced the amount they moved around even more.

‘Root cause’

Christopher Snowdon, author of the report, said:“The root cause of Britain’s rising obesity levels has not been a rise in calorie intake but a rise in inactivity.

“With obesity now featuring so heavily in the media it is worrying that so few people know that our largely sedentary lifestyles, not our appetites, have been the driving force behind the UK’s expanding waistlines.”

Campaigners promoting a healthy lifestyle should refocus their efforts towards encouraging exercise and away from a war on food, he claimed.

“Anti-market policies aimed at the whole population such as fat taxes will do nothing for the nation’s health,”​ he added.

Health campaigners target food supply instead of the inactive lifestyles of the general public because it is a “more inviting target”,​ Snowdon claimed.

“A war on the food industry requires no stigmatisation of individuals and there are a readymade set of policies available which have been tried and tested in the campaigns against tobacco and alcohol,” ​he added.

The report also claimed that people tended to downplay the amount they eat.

‘Nonsense and misleading’

But, professor Mike Lean from the University of Glasgow attacked the report as “complete nonsense​” and “misleading” ​on last night’s Channel 4 News.

Lean said the report failed because it didn’t take into consideration that people lied about their true consumption of food and did not measure the food they were eating outside of the home.

“If you ask people what they’re eating, they say they’re eating less, but if you measure what is being consumed from food outlets, it is going up,”​ he claimed.

“Fat is going up, sugar is going up, it is all going up. There are more food outlets, they’re being used more and people are not reporting it. It’s a classic error and one the food industry has used for years – it’s completely wrong and is misleading the public.”

The Fat Lie​ was based on statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the Office of National Statistics and the British Heart Foundation.

Key statistics from the report

  • Since 2002, the average body weight of English adults has increased by 2kg. This has coincided with a decline in calorie consumption of over 4% and a decline in sugar consumption of nearly 7.5%.
  • Of food eaten outside the home, daily calories consumed have fallen from 310 in 2001/02 to 219 in 2012, a drop of nearly one hundred calories per day in 10 years. (Data for eating out does not go back prior to 2000)
  • Despite falling calorie intake, average body mass has increased by 5kg since 1993.
  • Britons walk an average of 179 miles a year, down from 255 miles in 1976 and also cycle less; averaging 42 miles a year compared to 51 miles in 1976.
  • 40% of people report spending no time even walking at work. The rise of office jobs and labour saving devices means people have fewer opportunities for physical activity, both at work and at home.

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