Reprint from the Vancouver Sun
Diet change resisted, despite the evidence
Thursday, August 24, 2006
In a backgrounder released in March, the provincial health ministry announced the following ActNow BC targets for 2010: "Increase the percentage of the B.C. population that is physically active by 20 per cent; increase the percentage of B.C. adults who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily by 20 per cent; and reduce the percentage of B.C. adults who are overweight or obese by 20 per cent."
Laudable as these goals are, they were remarkable in their ambition, as no other jurisdiction in the world has been able to accomplish such improvements in a general population.
As someone familiar with the research on obesity and the associated chronic diseases, I assumed that there must be a new and innovative secret weapon up the government's sleeve to make it possible to reach such ambitious targets in so short a time.
Unfortunately, it now appears otherwise. All need not be lost, however.
Even with a mere three years left, it would still be possible to make real gains if people were prepared to abandon the current failed dietary dogma and objectively consider an emerging body of evidence that points us in a completely different direction.
There is credible scientific evidence that a diet high in carbohydrates, like the one we are encouraged to eat by all manner of authoritative sources, is actually contributing to overweight, obesity and the resulting epidemics of chronic diseases. On the flip side, there are numerous studies that demonstrate that low-carbohydrate diets are effective at reversing these conditions.
First: For the vast majority of the past two million years, our forebears ate a low-carb diet. The agricultural, grain-based diet we eat today emerged a short 10,000 years ago, a blink of the eye in terms of evolutionary time.
Second: Mainstream belief systems resist change, even in the face of compelling evidence. Consider that less than 200 years ago, the medical establishment firmly believed that blood-letting was the best treatment for fever.
When an early study showed that blood-letting was not effective, the establishment responded that blood-letting should start earlier and be done more vigorously.
This is not unlike the current response to the colossal failure to reverse the epidemics of obesity and chronic disease. We are told that the cure is known, our only failure is that we haven't tried hard enough to deliver it.
Unless we are prepared to shake off this dogmatic approach and consider new, credible evidence that points us in a more promising direction, I fear we are doomed to fail in the 2010 quest and, more importantly, in the larger effort to mitigate the human and societal costs of these preventable epidemics.
Dr. Jay Wortman is with the department of health care and epidemiology at the University of British Columbia.