Dr. Tim Lobstein is either an idiot or a lying toad

Dr Lobstein, a World Health Organisation advisor, said the food industry accepted our eating habits needed to change but it would not agree to sell less food.

People in the UK weigh on average around 9kg (20lbs) more now than they did in the 1980s. This means they are eating an extra 215 calories a day – at a cost of 54p each.

No, I’m afraid that that’s not actually true.

We are not, on average, consuming more calories than we did in the 1980s. We are, on average, consuming fewer.

The thing is, we’re also expending fewer calories. And we’re expending fewer calories more than the reduction in calorie consumption. Thus the entirely agreed weight gain.

And this is important. If we shout that obesity is a result of increased food consumption and then try to solve increased food consumption then we shall be wrong. For we will have misdiagnosed the problem in the first place.

This is entirely spearate from whether anyone should be telling us how to live our lives. Even if there is a place for such interventions (no, there ain’t) this bloke is still wrong.

21 thoughts on “Dr. Tim Lobstein is either an idiot or a lying toad”

  1. It’s not just about calories. The enthusiastic promotion of the food pyramid by governments, medical fraternity and producers of processed food, has reduced the amount of fat and protein we eat and increased the amount of insulin stimulating carbohydrate. Insulin enables the body to store excess energy as fat. Shoot all the eighties “experts”: they were catastrophically wrong.

  2. Our diet may have changed but access to fast food isn’t so different. Ok we now drink lattes and kebabs, but I don’t recall ever passing up a cup of tea or poke of chips. And whilst Boots and WH Smiths might not have sold food there were plenty of now-defunct establishments that did – relative to income I suspect it was more expensive; probably less nutritious, too. The answer, as you say, is back then we walked. Of course we were also younger, the old folks have expired prematurely from a combination of poor diet and overwork.

  3. Average height.

    I reckon that if you do the BMI calcs half of that 9kg is accounted for by the increase in height at a constant BMI, based on these numbers:

    2cm height gain for average male 21 year old between 1970 and 1995.

    That equates to >3kg increase in “normal” weight at a BMI of 25, assuming the pattern continued for another 5 years.

    Also that the Beeboids reported mid-1990s data as current in 2010. Idiots will never cease.

  4. First, let’s agree that the anti-Big-Everything prohibitionists can fuck off.

    OK. But what we seem to have here is two falling lines. One is the calorie intake, and one is physical activity (in all it’s relevant forms). It so happens that the second is falling faster than the first, and so people are, apparently, getting fatter.

    If we want to figure out how people who don’t want to get fatter can not get fatter it’s not simply a case of pointing out that their lack of physical activity is the cause and, so, doing more physical activity is the cure. What we have to do is find out what the optimum solution is.

    If we’re all using less energy in everyday life, then it does make as much sense to say that we should eat less than it does to say that we should exercise more. It has to be about finding the right balance. Some people just ain’t ever going to exercise – so they need to eat less (or eat different). That will be the easier path for them.

    The problem with the prohibitionists is that they demand the same path for everyone. And the force of law to send us down it. It’s much more complicated than that, and we should all get to decide, as individuals, what size we’re happy to be and how we will achieve it. But it’s no more correct to cite physical activity as the cause of all ills than it is to cite calorie intake.

  5. bloke (not) in spain

    Said this before but it bears repeating. Since the 80s, the UKs had a large influx of immigrants. And the immigrants who had already arrived in the 80s have now had a chance to have children. Which they’ve been doing at a proportionally higher rate than those produced the 1980s UK population.
    In most of the cultures, the UK now provides a home for, what they’re calling excess weight is regarded as a sign of status. Slim, toned bodies are the stigma of the hard working poor.
    Try telling an African woman she’s overweight. But be prepared. They may not have a great deal of acceleration but they pack a helluva punch.

  6. I would be slightly dubious about reports of consuming less calories.
    People do tend to under report what they eat (my other half is a Dietitian, so see this a lot).
    The more overweight the person, the more they will under report (tales of a 23 stone person stating they only were having 150 calories a day for instance).

  7. @ProgContra

    There is some evidence for an increase in under reporting:

    “Heitmann et al(32) hypothesized that observed trends for reductions in fat intakes were actually a result of an increasing trend for under-reporting and that this may be due to an increase in healthy eating campaigns. They found that the degree of under-reporting of total energy in groups of Danish participants was significantly higher in 1993-94 (29%) than in 1987-88 (15%).”

  8. B(n)is:

    The BBC doesn’t agree with you. Every article about ‘obesity’ on their website will have a photograph of a fat white man in a vest holding a pint of beer.

    This is one of the scenarios where diversity doesn’t appear to be important, or relevant to them.

  9. bloke (not) in spain

    Now there’s a curious thing, Rob, but if you go back to photos of Brits of the 50s & before, the same body-type is being positively regarded. You see the same in the distinctly, by current standards, hefty “Butlin’s Girls” & the like. There’s been a cultural shift to about the quoted 20lbs lighter, as an ideal.

  10. @TimothyA

    Interesting idea – but the conclusion of the paper that you link to:

    …while the positive changes seen are modest in most groups except younger children, it is important to note that across the board they are predominantly changes in the right direction. Furthermore, there are no dietary problem areas that have worsened.

  11. In case anyone thinks that’s an insult, by the way, I should add that I think those cultures are onto something. Was saying to the wife just the other day that I really don’t see the attraction of those gaunt spiky women so enamoured of our women’s-magazine-editing classes.

  12. So Much for Subtlety

    Squander Two – “Terry Pratchett (as is so often the case) put it best when he referred to those cultures where what they really look for in a woman is quantity.”

    Not unknown in the West. Look at Arkwright’s lust for Nurse Gladys.

    Squander Two – “In case anyone thinks that’s an insult, by the way, I should add that I think those cultures are onto something. Was saying to the wife just the other day that I really don’t see the attraction of those gaunt spiky women so enamoured of our women’s-magazine-editing classes.”

    Yeah that’s because you are still married innit? It is kind of compulsory to say that sort of thing to the wife. It is the law or summit.

    However there is a vast difference between the girls in women’s magazines and women in men’s magazines.

  13. Matt and BIS,

    Yes I think you’re both onto something. Just looking at weight is daft. I’m taller than my father and both grandfathers. My nephews are my height but make me look a wimp.

    And immigrants could be distorting things. 30 yrs ago I tried tackling a Nigerian immigrant to this country – I am told that I did a very good impression of an undone shoe lace as he stormed to the try line with me flapping helplessly on one ankle. No fat on him (at the time).

  14. “People in the UK weigh on average around 9kg (20lbs) more now than they did in the 1980s. This means they are eating an extra 215 calories a day – at a cost of 54p each.”

    No, I don’t think so. Fat contains 8.7 kcal/g so 9 kg contains 78,300 kcal. If you divide that by 365, you get 215 kcal, but that would suggest you put on all that weight in one year, and then stopped. Most people live around 75 years (ballpark) so on average it’s more like 6 kcal/day, (supposing that you are born with 0 kg extra, when you’re 37 you’re 9kg overweight and when you’re 75 you’re 18 kg overweight, for an average of 9 kg.) That’s at a cost of 1.5 p per day, and about 0.3% of your daily intake.

    Of course, it doesn’t work like that. The imbalance between intake and output is proportional to the rate of change of weight. Thus, fat people who stay fat, at a constant weight, are just as in balance as thin people who stay thin. Both sorts eat almost exactly the same calories as they burn. Given that the basal metabolic rate can vary by a factor of 2 from individual to individual, and as noted above the imbalance required to change weight by the amount observed is around 0.3% of intake, it should be apparent that the individual variation is far bigger than the imbalance, and the latter is utterly undetectable by anything as crude as counting Calories or estimating energy expenditure. We don’t even know how many Calories many sorts of food contain to that accuracy! It varies several percent from sample to sample.

    The shift in energy expenditure going from manual labour to office work is about 1000 times bigger than is needed to explain the change in weight.

    Likewise, sitting in a cold room can reportedly burn 8% more energy, which is likewise about 25 times more than is needed to explain the change, so the modern use of central heating is just as plausible an explanation.

    Which is to say, not at all.

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