Laziness blamed for our lard - not our dietary habits

Last updated 05:00 12/08/2012

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Soft drinks and fast food are not causing the obesity epidemic - laziness is the real grim reaper.

American professor Stephen Blair, who makes a habit of controversial statements challenging the conventional health establishment's views, made his latest statement while in New Zealand to give a lecture on exercise at the University of Auckland.

He is the same professor who caused an outcry among dietitians and cardiologists for saying it is better to be fat and fit than skinny and lazy. In his words: “Fitness trumps fatness.”

He makes no apologies for the stir caused among health professionals.

“You've been sold that sugar is the source of all evil. The notion sugar is toxic, sugar is bad, sugar is poison is out there all the time, even more than tobacco, cocaine and heroin.”

Sugary drinks and McDonald's are not to blame for the obesity epidemic, he said. Studies show sugar consumption is actually falling in developed nations.

Also, according to his calculations, the amount of calories in family-sized McDonald's meals is the same as a home-cooked meal of chicken and potatoes.

But there is no denying the levels of heart disease and diabetes have risen in line with our increasing waistlines.

New Zealand is the third fattest nation in the OECD, trailing behind the United States and Mexico.

Blair said there was no evidence this was caused by people eating more. Rather than victimising fat people we should focus on the fourth biggest killer in the world - laziness.

Inactivity kills more people than tobacco each year; 5.3 million deaths versus five million worldwide, he argued.

“This is the biggest public health problem facing us in the 21st century. We're moving less and sitting more.”

He suggests people ditch the calorie counting and stick to counting steps. Latched to his rotund hip is a step counter. He makes no beef about his plumpness, insisting he regularly walks to keep himself healthy. About 150 minutes per week is enough to prolong your life.

However, his latest remarks came the same week a health specialist called for greater regulations to fight the bulge.

This included restricting fast food advertising, limiting the number of fast-food outlets and cutting back serving sizes.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Dr Robyn Toomath said educating people has failed and regulation is now needed.

“The free rein that the producers of fast food have needs to be curtailed.”

She said there has been a remarkable change in the diet of New Zealanders over the past 30 years. The fact we are eating larger quantities of fatty and sugary food is a major factor in the obesity epidemic, Toomath said.

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The Ministry of Health issued new food and nutrition guidelines for children last week, highlighting the importance of diet and exercise.

Lindsay Mouat, deputy chairman of the Food Industry Group, welcomed the move. He said fast food outlets like McDonald's are easy targets in the war against obesity and New Zealanders should be encouraging people to be more active.

Many fast food outlets now offer healthy options.

"We don't have to go into McDonald's and choose a Big Mac. There's a whole range of options."

McDonald's declined to comment on whether its restaurants contributed to New Zealand's obesity problem.

- Sunday Star Times

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