An article in EurActiv.com - Obesity debate: personal responsibility needed - caught my attention last week with the opening sentence, "Scientists wish to bring some 'common sense' to the debate on obesity: no need to demonise sugar or any other food as a culprit for obesity - the problem remains imbalance of energy intake and consumption."
Last week EU and US scientists gathered at an event titled "Managing Sweetness" and developed a consensus statement defending the role of sugar in a balanced diet. They argued for bringing personal responsibility back to the core of public health policy and called on the EU and the member states to take the lead in shaping strategies to help individuals learn to manage their diets.
Some background, the Managing Sweetness event is the second one hosted by Oldways Preservation Trust - the first was held in Mexico City, October 21-23, 2004. That conference also led to the creation of and publication of a consensus statement regarding sugars in the diet. Interestingly, the Oldways website has no information about the current conference on their website - nothing, not even the date or location. But with the article above, we know the event took place and that it was hosted again by the Oldways Preservation Trust.
So what are we to make of this new - still unreleased - consensus statement?
We have a good idea of what's to come - managing weight is all about personal responsibility for consumption of sugars and total calories in the diet. Everything, including sugars, in moderation is just fine and dandy. Don't ask for a definition of "moderation" - that's part of the personal responsibility required of anyone taking responsibility for what goes in their mouth.
Which begs the question, how many times are we going down this path before we take a long hard look at the metabolic consequence of excessive carbohydrate in the diet and its direct influence on hunger and appetite?
How much longer are we going to capitulate to the politics that are beneath the surface in this type of consensus statement?
How much longer are we going to appease the food industry and put the financial health of food manufacturers ahead of the health of our adults and our children?
The idea that many "experts" still continue to hold the opinion that it's just a matter of willpower to simply eat less calories, that if one just takes "personal responsibility" and eats "everything in moderation" they'll lose weight...well, it just mystifys me how, after decades of this idea making the rounds while at the same time not working for millions of people, we're still stuck on it.
Of course personal responsibility does come into play - we each choose what we will eat each time we're hungry. However, the influence a food has on our metabolic response is tied to a number of things - calories, weight of food and beverages consumed, macronutrients in food consumed, micronutrients delivered in food consumed, etc. Basically, once we've made a conscious decision about what to eat, our metabolism then takes over and we are no longer consciously "in control" of what happens next. When hunger is triggered a few hours after eating, there is only so long a person can and will ignore the very real, very physical signals the body is sending to urge consumption of more food.
Now the experts, backed by the food industry, are counting on you to eat everything in moderation, even if the very things triggering your hunger are making it difficult to eat less. When you can't, when your hunger is too intense, it's your own fault. It's not the excessive sugars, it's not the food you're eating - it's your fault, your lack of personal responsibility and will power.
Personally, I don't buy it.
As I said, there is a level of personal responsibility involved, but where is the integrity of these experts to tell you how different foods are affecting your metabolism, affecting your hunger triggers, affecting your level of satiety? Where is their personal responsibility to communicate the science honestly to you, the consumer?
Why do these esteemed professionals not communicate about the satiety value of quality protein? Oh, if they did, you'd consume less calories, less food and may even feel better. But, you'd also be eating less processed food, less added sugars and spending less money on the very foods your body no longer hungers for.
Why do these experts not communicate the various data from studies that finds if you consume less carbohydrate, you're more likely to spontaneously - without specifically being told to do so - lower calorie intake? Could it be that you'd again be eating less food, less processed foods and less of the very things that trigger your hunger to eat more?
So while the experts are continuing to push this idea of personal responsibility, isn't it time they took some themselves and told the truth? The truth that what you eat now has a powerful effect on when you'll be hungry again and what you'll be likely to choose to eat later?