By TOM HONIG
CAPITOLA -- Science writer Gary Taubes questions the medical community’s conventional wisdom about why Americans get fat, and he’s bringing his message to Santa Cruz County.
The author of the best-selling book “Why We Get Fat,” Taubes takes aim at the role of refined sugars and carbohydrates – and says that dietitians and doctors are misreading “fairly obvious” data about why America has an obesity epidemic.
Taubes spoke Wednesday at New Brighton Middle School in Capitola at an event sponsored by the County Office of Education. County Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins introduced him by saying that obesity and Type 2 Diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in Santa Cruz County. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 38 percent of students in grades 7, 9 and 11 in Watsonville are overweight and 30 percent of teens in Santa Cruz are overweight or in danger of being
Taubes, in an interview, said, “It’s clear that refined carbohydrates and sugars lead to insulin resistance in the human body. And that leads to a suite of the diseases well known in Western civilizations. It comes down to getting carb-rich foods out of our diets.”
Taubes studied applied physics at Harvard and aerospace engineering at Stanford before receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1981. He’s the author of several books and is on the staff of Discover Magazine. He also is a fellow at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.
But it was a cover story for the New York Times Magazine in 2002 that brought him into prominence as an expert on diet and weight loss. The article, “What if it’s all been a big fat lie,” questioned whether the often-recommended low-fat diets popularized by the likes of Dean Ornish actually benefited Americans who have only been growing more obese each year.
Taubes, a college football defensive lineman and a man who himself was overweight, had lost weight on the controversial Atkins diet – which favors meat, other animal products and vegetables. It excludes most carbohydrate-rich food like rice, bread, potatos, cookies, pasta and, perhaps most of all, soda pop.
“The typical advice from the medical community is that people are fat because they eat too many calories and don’t exercise enough.”
Surprisingly, he said, the evidence doesn’t support that statement. “It’s sugar that does it.” And that’s not just sugar, but also the carbs that convert to sugar.
“If I’m right, they’ve got it wrong,” he continued. Fewer calories and more exercise is “a paradigm of energy balance.” Rather, he sees obesity as resulting from a “hormonal defect” – and that can be the result of taxing the insulin system.
And more exercise isn’t necessarily the answer to weight loss. In fact, he argues, that exercising won’t help if it leads to someone chowing down on unhealthy carbs.
“Look at it this way. A basset hound is chubby and is basically a couch potato. A greyhound is sleek and fast. You can withhold all the food you want from the basset hound and put him on a treadmill for hours every day, but you won’t get a greyhound. You’ll just get an emaciated basset hound.”
Taubes asserted that doctors and the U.S. government have misinterpreted scientific data on dietary research. Counting calories and eating low-fat foods exclusively has been proved not to be true. His evidence? That Americans continue to get fatter.
He said that research essentially proves what American parents told their kids prior to the 1960s -- go light on bread, pasta and sweets. “Those people were right all along.”
“It’s’ not about eating less and exercising more,” he repeated. “The issue is this. Is a bowl of oatmeal with skim milk better for you than eggs and bacon? The data say that eggs and bacon is the healthier way to eat.”
At the COE-sponsored event Taubes repeated an oft-sounded call to get sodas and fruit juices out of the schools. But substituting those items for sugar-rich carbohydrates isn’t the answer.
Taubes is the second speaker in the field of obesity to be invited by the COE. Last year, Dr. Robert Lusting – who recently was featured on 60 Minutes – brought a similar message.
For a YouTube presentation by Taubes, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6vpFV6Wkl4