back to article Lies, damn pies and obesity statistics: We're NOT a nation of fatties

The messaging cannot be any clearer. We, like much of the developed world, are in the midst of an obesity crisis caused in large part by eating too much. Our super-size culture of fast food, sugary drinks and junk diets is turning us into a nation of over-sized and unhealthy slobs with expanding waist lines and it’s getting …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not how much you stuff in your gob, it's what you stuff in that matters and whether you stuff more in than expel out. A bit like over filling a petrol tank.

    Even today doing my weekly shop I have had to negotiate my way around those of a larger size.

    It saddens me when I not only see the XXL sized parents, but their XXL sized off spring following along behind a shopping trolley fill to the rafters of crisps, processed foods and copious amounts of fizzy drinks, of which a number are usually diet Coke ( makes them feel better but can actually mak you fatter as it sends the wrong signals to your brain regarding sugars ).

    I have to disagree with 'we are not a nation of fatties' when every 4th person I see is fat.

    Oh, I forgot can't call them fat can we, it's not allowed anymore, we have to be nice instead.

    But being fat is still fat whichever way you look at it. Check out the number of mobility scooters with fat people on them, too fat to work, too fat to walk, catch 22

    No doubt it will soon be a jail able offence to point at someone and shout 'hey fat arse let me get past'.

    Down vote me to hell, I care not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I have to disagree with 'we are not a nation of fatties' when every 4th person I see is fat."

      Since 2000 the same observation can be made about my large town in England. Young boys often seem to buck the trend in fat families - possibly indicating an exercise factor?

      In the 1980s I worked in Luxembourg. The older population were very rotund - and almost every other shop on Grand Rue was a confiserie or patisserie. The very low indigenous birthrate meant that the slimmer younger demographic came from Portuguese immigrant worker families. That immigration had been a long tradition. After a couple of generations the families became acculturated as Luxembourgers - and their birthrate declined while their girth increased.

      In the 1970s South Africa had a social split in the white population. The "Poor Whites" were financially subsidised as part of the Government's political ideology. It was not uncommon see whole families who were grossly obese - even young boys with several double chins. A local colleague attributed it to those families eating too many rich foods which they saw as status symbols.

    2. Beornfrith

      Well it's nice to know that when I use my mobility scooter - a lifeline to my physical and mental wellbeing - there are people like you judging me. I'm 6'4" and most definitely overweight. I'm just shy of 30 and definitely not using my scooter because I'm lazy or fat: I'm using it because I have been ill since I was 15 and my body does not function correctly. I display no outward signs of illness.

      My weight has been stable for years. The medication that keeps my symptoms in check also exacerbate weight gain. I do not eat excessively but when I do cut back on my intake I suffer from fits of falling due to low blood pressure. Falling repeatedly from my height, with joints, muscles and bones that hurt 24/7 is frankly not worth the literal agony.

      It's nice to know that people like you can obviously understand the myriad of health problems that individuals you encounter by vision alone. There undoubtedly are people out there who eat junk to excess and simply can't be bothered walking but tarring every overweight person on a mobility scooter with the same brush is akin to perpetuating the equally ridiculous "all Muslims are terrorists" myth.

      So to quote yourself: down vote me to hell, I care not.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        I pushed a wheelchair around for 7 years for someone who had multiple health issues, blind, amputee, was on dialysis, a heart condition and mobility issues, medication that could constitute a three course meal and other health issues courtesy of diabetes from childhood. Never a complaint.

        With all that going on this person was never fat or overweight, and before the illness really took hold after 50 years of being diagnosed, regularly played competitive sport, worked and had an active life.

        So when I see people who are fat and overweight towing fat and overweight children behind them stuffing trolleys with everything that will send them down the same route as my friend, not because they were born diabetic but because their lifestyle took them there I feel very angry. I feel for the children.

        While you may have a medical condition and I sympathise I really do, there is still one constant formula that cannot be denied. If you eat much more than your body needs and is able to burn off there is an imbalance. This means you put on weight, a fact. If you eat crap you will put on weight more quickly.

        If you stop eating food altogether you get thin, in a famine, the results of which I have seen first hand, you die but you die thin not fat.

        I won't down vote you, that would be taking advantage of your predicament.

    3. veti Silver badge

      Brave words from the Anonymous Coward there. Good to see people standing up for what they believe in.

      Except that if you trouble to read the fine article (I know, I know), you'd see the author has already covered the "it's not how much, it's what you eat" canard.

      I suspect it's already an offence to shout that (conduct likely to result in a breach of the peace). I really look forward to reading of the first person to be jailed for it, though. Remember: it's not civil disobedience unless you do it openly and take the consequences. Anonymous passive-aggression on Internet forums doesn't cut it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        For me, the apparent lack of exercise is what does it, that and a possibly a genetic/metabolism component. People do eat bad stuff, and more so than in the 60's and 70's, but then people also now do literally no manual labour or exercise at all. Everyone drives everywhere, sits in a call centre for work, watches hours and hours of telly of an evening and still eats 3 meals a day.

        And weight/BMI is not even the thing that matters, it is fitness. You can be obese and fit if you eat a lot but do a lot of exercise. If you eat little and do no exercise, you can be normal weight but unfit. Movement is the key to fitness, and that is the ultimate importance.

        I am fit (not olympian fit, but I don't have any reservations about doing anything physical at all, I can walk miles, run for some distance, do whatever manual labour is needed for something). I never get sick, and I feel happy with my general health. I am Obese by BMI measures.

        My wife is not fit (from a health perspective). She has many ailments and is extremely obese (always has been). She does NO exercise. She can't walk more than a few yards without it exhausting her.

        We both eat almost exactly the same stuff, and she doesn't drink alcohol or sugary drinks at all.

        It isn't what you eat, it's what you do. There are too many lazy people out there. Laziness is what is making the UK fat/unfit.

        1. Chris Parsons

          Re: Laziness

          Absolutely spot on. I remember reading, most likely in New Scientist, that we are about 3000 calories a week disadvantaged against people in the 50s just because they did so much more physical work.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon

            Re: Laziness

            I haven't seen any comments on all the crap in our foods these days either.

            Unless you are 100% organic in your diet, you are pumping some form of man-made chemical into your body. I don't recall that the health system or food quality being that much better now than when I was in my late teens (circa 1990) so I was in my late 30's I was surprised to see a group of teenagers at the supermarket and I only came up to their shoulders, and I'm 6'.

            I was thinking that all those growth hormones they pumped into animals to get them to the table sooner must be causing these kids to grow. Either that or Arnie was fathering hundreds of bastards in my neck of the woods.

        2. James Micallef Silver badge

          Re: BMI

          BMI is an abomination. Any analysis based on it is automatically null and void. Any policy based on it is automatically rubbish.

        3. LucreLout

          Re: Laziness

          "Laziness is what is making the UK fat/unfit."

          Sort of agree. I'm fat, BTW, which is my own fault. I've also ran multiple marathons at one time or another, and have a box of trophies in the loft from different sports from martial arts to swimming.

          A key component of the reason being I work a 9 or 10 hour day and have 3 hours commuting on top, plus a small child to look after, and courses to complete of an evening. I get about 2 hours of leisure time a week, and sadly, I don't spend that hanging about in a room full of sweaty blokes.

          I try to compensate by taking the stairs 8 floors to my desk rather than the lift, and cutting out/down on the amount of garbage I feed myself. But still, I'm fat because I exercise too little. Unless someone can force the TOC to get their act together, or more houses are built closer to my work place, then I can't make extra hours appear in the day. Give me an extra hour a day and I'd probably split it between exercise, more time with my child, and sleep.

          The unfortunate reality you can't see is that some of us are fat because we don't have time to go to the gym due to work, transport, and family. It's not being lazy: it's being busy. You'll be amazed to know I don't spend time pawing the window at Greggs of an evening. I don't have time!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Laziness

            I thought growth hormones were illegal in Europe. I thought they were only allowed in the US.

            I agree with the exercise point above and not having enough time. I'm not overweight but there have been times in my life were work and home commitments have made exercising impossible and I did put on a little weight. I think that is something which has got worse over the years in that more and more people don't do manual work and spend longer working and commuting.

            I'd also be interested to see if thyroid function has changed. A friend of mine has always struggled with weight to finally discover that he's got an under active thyroid. It seems that's become more common in recent years. The person concerned had cut down to one small meal a day and still couldn't shift the weight.

            Obviously it's a good idea to jeer at fat people in the street as this will instantly solve any health problems they might have and at the very least will boost their self confidence so they eat less.

            My uncle, on the other hand, has got the opposite problem and at one point he was eating five or six meals a day and still losing weight. That's normalised a lot since he's started treatment but it is clear that both cases went a long time undiagnosed.

    4. N2

      Agree entirely

      & unfortunately its spreading here in France, 10 years ago one would hardly see a fatty, but now theyre all too common, along with the cancerous spread of Mc Donalds, not so 'diet' coke, Subway etc.

      If I was fat, to be honest, Id prefer people to shout "oi fat bastard..." because it might give me some impetus to do something about it.

      Thankfully there's no political correctness here either, but I despair, one day it will happen.

      1. Jeremy Puddleduck

        Re: Agree entirely

        What is this bloody obsession with shouting things at people? Why shout anything at all? Because the number of people you are legitimately shout racist/sexist/offensive things at is reducing you'll just shout at someone for the size of their arse?

        You sound a real catch.

  2. Mage Silver badge

    Fat maybe

    But obviously not because of eating per-se.

    It sounds complex.

    Certainly kids that used to walk to school, or walk to & from bus stops don't anymore.

    There is more TV watching, in 1950s and 1960s the TV wasn't on 24 x7. Programs only from late afternoon to before midnight.

    No computer games till late 1970s.

    No Interwebs till 1990s.

  3. wiggers


    The analysis omits to examine the incidence of high-carb related diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which have been increasing over the same time. Many of the charts in the article only go back a decade whereas the 'fat is bad' lie goes back to the 70s. Maybe the very slight changes shown in the charts means we are just beginning to wake up to the problem. The assertion it is down to lack of exercise or thermostats falls down when you have newborns and toddlers that are obese. Are they not exercising enough and has their environment really changed that much in the past decade or two? Switching to a low-carb-high-fat (LCHF) diet means you are burning fat to maintain body temperature, the equivalent of an hour's workout on a high-carb diet, just by living! I am not alone in experiencing significant weight loss having gone LCHF, eating when I am hungry and achieving satiation; 20kg loss in just over a year in my case and now enjoying a stable weight on the same intake. BMI is right in the middle of the normal range, height/waist is perfect (had to buy whole new wardrobe though!) 10yr CHD risk is just 4% (avg for my age 14%) all other health indicators very good.

    So this article is trying to find statistics to say, "actually chaps we're OK" when the nation's health is far from it. Look at this from first principles. Look at the bio-chemistry of the effect of carbohydrate consumption on insulin, grehlin, leptin, liver function, kidney function, salt excretion and the headline-grabbing cholesterol that Big Pharma would love to resolve by selling even more statins.

    1. Jesrad

      Re: Statistics

      Thanks for mentionning this. I too healed from obesity and diabetes on a LHCF diet, no more health problems now. And so did the dozen people that I got along on this.

      The core of the argument in the article is that Brits eat less and exercize more and more to the recommendations of their gov, yet see no health gain. Figures, maybe the gov advice is wrong in the first place eh ?

      The problem is that science has been early-fossilized by state intervention, as a government appointed panel of experts just cannot admit being wrong on anything, ever. They've steadfastly refuse to incorporate any of the results of recent medical research on the subject and keep alive myths from the 60s and 70s. Same thing is happening across the Channel, ever since France initiated a massive public health program in 2001 which has had exactly zero net impact on french waists and arteries:

  4. Lars Silver badge

    The Lie

    A funny one, "it’s not food that’s to blame for the rise in obesity but lack of exercise.".

    That is, it's still the food when we do not exercise enough, was it ever differently?. Is this news.

    And the "UK government’s “food and family” datasets", nothing to do with statistics there.

    I do believe some people get fat more "easily" than others, on the other hand, as a broke and hungry student I knew very well that visiting fat friends was always more revarding.

    1. Psyx

      Re: The Lie

      I don'ty need stats to tell me we are a fat nation. My Mk I eyeballs are just fine for the job.

      We. Are. Fat. And Lazy.

  5. Shooter

    Don't forget the shifting targets, either.

    Here on the left side of the pond, a while back (15 or 20 years ago, IIRC) the governmental nutrition nabobs revised the definition of obesity significantly downwards (something like 20%, I don't remember the exact figures). Then two or three years later there was a spate of alarmist news stories reporting on the vast increase of obese people in recent years. Nowhere was it indicated that there were adjustments made to account for the change in definition.

    Not denying that there are certainly a lot of fat people around - hell, I'm turning into one myself in my dotage. But as others have mentioned, I'm certain it has to do with lack of exercise more than poor diet (although diet is certainly a factor). I can't be the only one who finds it hard to get motivated about exercise after putting in a 10 - 12 hour workday, plus commute time.

    1. wiggers

      You lose weight in the kitchen and gain health in the gym. It's 80% diet, 20% exercise.

    2. Mike 140

      Sounds like the NIH 1998 redefinition of overweight from 27.8 to 25 BMI, and similar for obese. Same has happened here on the correct side of the pond, again no reference to it in the alarmism.

    3. Dr. Ellen

      Moving the goals?

      When I was younger, "obesity" translated to "shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly". Today, you can be slim, yet obese. Obese is defined (in these wailing articles) strictly by BMI. And BMI is defined as weight divided by the *square* of your height. If a given shape, proportionate to size, were ideal -- then you would want to divide by the *cube* of your height. As things stand, to maintain a particular BMI, people must get slimmer to counterbalance getting taller. Since I am tall, I find this unfair.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: Moving the goals?

        Well said, Dr Ellen.

        (weight)/(height**3) is constant, roughly the same as water, 1 tonne per cubic metre for those who think big.

        So (BMI)/(height) is constant. Ie, for the same shape, a big person has a bigger BMI.

        Secondly, most of what we eat goes into keeping our blood warm (which helps our brains to function). A shark or crocodile can live on one big eat per month, but we cannot. The proportion of food used for physical effort is only a tiny fraction.

        But now we are living in warmer houses: room temperature 19th century was 15 centigrade; these days it is 20 or more. However, help is at hand. Green policies will produce power cuts every winter (when there is less solar power anyway), and we shall shiver our way to slimness.

        1. Charles Manning

          Re: Moving the goals?

          Or perhaps...

          Your volume might go up according to the cube of your height, but your surface area goes up according to the square of your height.

          If we say a fattie (or which I am one) has an average of F cm of fat under the skin, then the fat will be approx constant x F x height squared.

          So maybe square is a fair measure?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Moving the goals?

            Yes, that's why it is height^2.

            BMI is a decent measure of a population's tubbiness, which is what it was intended as.

            It's crap as an arbitrary "you are fat and unhealthy" vs "you are normal" line in the sand for an individual - unfortunately this is what is is used for

            1. James Micallef Silver badge

              Re: Moving the goals?

              "Yes, that's why it is height^2."

              As mentioned by other posters, humans are 3-dimensional, so using square is not correct. As also mentioned above by other posters, humans are more 'cylindrical' than 'spherical' so maybe using the cube of the height isn't very correct either.

              "BMI is a decent measure of a population's tubbiness, which is what it was intended as."

              Except that actually, it isn't, because it takes into account only mass, without distinction of whether that mass is fat or muscle. This is made worse because muscle is denser than fat.

              Given the 2 issues above and given that fat tends to accumulate round the waist while muscle gain is more evenly distributed, a better measure of 'fatness' would be

              mass/(height*waist circumference)

              1. Oz

                Re: Moving the goals?

                Waist circumference on the bottom would not work. It wouldn't differentiate between tall and thin or short and fat. Perhaps


                might be a better starting point?

        2. ravenviz Silver badge

          Room temperature

          I'm sure I was taught in science classes in the 80's that room temperature is 21 ºC but Wikipedia seems to suggest it is 'defined' higher at 23 ºC.

          I prefer to keep my house and office at 20 ºC, and car at 19 ºC, for a belief that it is (slightly more) healthy, but I wonder how many extra calories are burned per 1 ºC ambient temperature reduction per hour?

      2. frank ly

        Re: Moving the goals?

        "If a given shape, proportionate to size, were ideal -- then you would want to divide by the *cube* of your height."

        That would be true if the human body could be aproximated by a sphere, but it is more closely approximated by a cylinder, hence the square is used. Maybe the height raised to the power 2.3 would be more 'fair'?

      3. Eddy Ito

        Re: Moving the goals?

        @Dr. Ellen

        It's worse, the theory that "normal" BMI is healthy could be wrong and it certainly seem improper for schools to say children are overwieght based on BMI. If we look at some illconceived correlations we can find that age has a bearing on body fat and BMI as shown in both the "children" and "adult" equations at the bottom of this page yet the initial BMI equation doesn't make any such distinction. I know when I'm being walked through a field of cow patties yet I'm stunned by how many people can't see they are standing on shit.

        A quote for the ages from the NYPost article linked above "why should I believe the New York Department of Education?” - perfect.

      4. Tom 38

        Re: Moving the goals?

        Obese is defined (in these wailing articles) strictly by BMI.

        BMI is not meant to be a personal indicator of health, it is meant to be a way of grouping huge numbers of people for statistically similar outcomes.

        For you personally, BMI 30 is not really obese, but for all people with BMI 30, you are a statistical outlier. This doesn't mean that BMI is not a useful macro measurement, but that it is not particularly useful for you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Moving the goals?

          "This doesn't mean that BMI is not a useful macro measurement, but that it is not particularly useful for you."

          So in fact, BMI is useless for any individual. Which is fine, the public health enthusiasts could just stop misleading and confusing people by talking about BMI publicly, and offer the public a simpler and infallible test of fatness:

          "Undress in front of a mirror. Are you a bit of a Bunter?"

          1. Tom 38

            Re: Moving the goals?

            "This doesn't mean that BMI is not a useful macro measurement, but that it is not particularly useful for you."

            So in fact, BMI is useless for any individual.

            I think you must be being extraordinarily dense. The OP was commenting that, as a statistical outlier in terms of height, BMI did not make much sense for her. I agreed, and said that as an outlier, it did not.

            You've extrapolated this to "it is useless for any individual". Well, no. Actually, a great great many people are not statistical outliers, and for those people, BMI is a tremendously useful indicator of health.

            I'm shocked that I have to explain this to you, this is the basis of the South Park joke, "I'm not fat I'm big boned". Yes, for some people this measurement is not appropriate, but for the vast majority it is. The sheer number of people proclaiming that BMI is not applicable to them would lead me to think that either we have a strangely large population of extremely tall people, or that at least some of them are like Eric Cartman, and not "big boned" or extremely tall.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Moving the goals?

              "I think you must be being extraordinarily dense."

              Not showing up in my BMI.

              But I think you're wrong anyway. There's not really any good science to BMI that I'm aware of it. It's a rule of thumb, it works best at a population level, works less well for tall people, or people who are muscley.

              But at any rate, whether people argue with BMI or not, if they want to be fat (and it is a personal choice for the vast majority of the porky population) then that's fine by me.

            2. Corinne

              Re: Moving the goals? @Tom38

              BMI is, as Ledswinger says, only useful as a generalisation for large numbers, and "outliers" are possibly more common than those who fit the "average" mould.

              I have broad shoulders, big hips, large rib cage. Someone can be the same height as me, and have a significantly higher level of fat but slimmer shoulders, rib cage & hips, and have a lower BMI. Muscle is denser than fat, so for 2 people with the same dimensions the more muscular one will have a higher BMI than the one with more body fat. There is so much variation in body types that a simple calculation based purely on height vs weight IS virtually useless.

          2. Eddy Ito

            Re: Moving the goals?

            offer the public a simpler and infallible test of fatness

            How about height divided by max girth about the belly. I'd think if that ratio is less than 1 it may indicate an excess of adipocytes, a ratio near 2 might be close to normal and 3 would be stick figure territory. Maybe the denominator should be an average of hips, gut and chest to account for where different people may carry weight.

    4. Nick Kew

      It's not just moving goals. Different measures can tell very different stories, and we're all different.

      When I had a health check a few years back, they[1] found me obese measured by BMI. But they also measured my body fat at 17%, bang in the middle of healthy range, or in what Wikipedia calls "fitness". Make of that what you will!

      [1] Nuffield health. The check was a perk of my then-job.

  6. phil dude

    lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

    Well I suppose they are government figures, so what could possibly be wrong?

    The science says if you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. For those who read about the biochemistry of these processes, you may have been surprised how much control you actually have over these processes. For example, if you run a marathon it consumes about 3500 kCals. That's about a pound of fat.

    Does it seem reasonable that sitting down all day would require 2500kCals? Look up the recommendations...

    The sad thing is the change in lifestyle that accompanies working, is broadly because it is not recognised as the health crisis it is, and sport does incur a cost. I don't run so much as some I know ,but $100 for good running shoes is not unreasonable. If I want to swim, well there's another cost.

    A shame that governments just see playing fields as wasted real estate, and sports as an activity they can tax.


    1. wiggers

      Re: lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

      It's not about calories, it how the body handles different food types.

    2. Nick Kew

      Re: lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

      Why does exercise incur a cost? Noone charges me for a swim in our local rivers or the sea. Cycling isn't free, but it's cheaper than other ways of getting from A to B.

      The main barrier to exercise is highly-polluted and car-infested roads making it thoroughly unpleasant to go anywhere!

    3. Peter Ford

      Re: lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

      Sure, running a marathon burns 3500kCals (or whatever), but just keeping your brain alive burns a big chunk of the 2500kCals/day, so that is on top of your marathon run - that day you burned more like 6000kCal.

      1. Chemist

        Re: lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

        "keeping your brain alive burns a big chunk of the 2500kCals/day"

        Actually about 200-300 cals/day . There are many sources of ref. but this one should do :

      2. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: lies , damn lies, and who are all the pies?

        Re: keeping your brain alive

        I think you are closer to the value of keeping your whole body alive. A very loose rule is body weight in kg × 25, e.g. 75 kg × 25 = 1875 calories, but the personal result depends on some additional factors such as height and age.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OK. Totally conspiritorial here.

    Making out there is an impending crisis, with fat and sugar the culprits, and then suggesting (it's already been suggested) that high fat and high sugar foods should incur - wait for it - tax!

    It's all about generating government revenue at the expense of consumers, I say!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OK. Totally conspiritorial here.

      This was obviously a joke. I posted as an AC because it was a bit contentious, and as an AC comment, I could not choose the joke icon.

      I hope nobody thought I was totally serious.

  8. frank ly

    Always more questions

    In the average intake per person per day chart, there are two distinct and identicaly shaped dips for 2004-5 and 2008. I can't remember any national food shortages during those years or any national advertising campaign to eat less - so why the dips?

    BMI: " ... there is no distinction between pure rippling muscle and unadulterated flab."

    True, so BMI is not a good indicator of 'obesity' if you're a boxer, rugby player or a lumberjack, or very tall or very short. However, for the majority of the 'ordinary' population it is a reasonable and easy measure to take. So, unless the height or muscle development of the average population has changed much, it should be fine for long term use. If the average height does change then it should be easy enough to apply correction factors so as to make valid comparisons.

    "Crucially, there is no measure there of waist circumference, which is what most of us use to make a judgement .."

    What 'most of us' use to make a judgement is not medically uselful. From what I've read, the waist circumference in relation to chest and hip sizes can be a good indicator of future cardiac problems, so maybe these should be measured as part of the standard GP type of examination.

    In the BMI category graph, there is a period of notable change between 1993 and 2001, then not much change after that to 2012. The BMI changes (for the worse) seem to coincide with the period of decreased calorie intake, though there are no figures for calorie intake after 2001. Does anyone know why this might be?

    It all raises more questions than it answers, as do many of these types of studies.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Always more questions

      "True, so BMI is not a good indicator of 'obesity' if you're a boxer, rugby player or a lumberjack, or very tall or very short. However, for the majority of the 'ordinary' population it is a reasonable and easy measure to take."

      which means it's OK as a 'rough and ready' calculation for large populations, but not OK if, for example, health insurance is using BMI as a parameter in calculating premiums.

      1. Tom 38

        Re: Always more questions

        which means it's OK as a 'rough and ready' calculation for large populations, but not OK if, for example, health insurance is using BMI as a parameter in calculating premiums.

        Sorry, what? This is exactly what it is useful for. Take a large population, segment it by BMI. The health of people within each segment is pretty consistent, statistically, and so the cost of providing insurance to people in that segment is pretty consistent, and you can use it to set premiums. At no point has someone said "Oh that James, his BMI is high so lets jack his premiums".

        I doubt any provider goes solely off BMI..

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  10. Chemist

    OK I admit it

    In 1997 I weighed 115kg @ 1.8m tall. I decided that enough was enough especially as mountain climbing was getting rather hard

    I curtailed my diet to ~2300 cals per day (estimate) and began increasing my exercise. Now not everyone can do it but I live in hilly country and I worked in the country so by walking and eventually running before breakfast, walking at lunch and in the evenings I managed to exercise the equivalent of 500-2000 cals per day. It took 4 years losing some every spring/summer & gaining some over winter.

    I still have the spreadsheets going back to then and I carried on until I reached ~80kg which I've maintained ever since.

    The equation was actually simple (Estimated calories consumed minus required calorie intake for neutral weight gain minus exercise calories)/8000 = weight loss per day in kg.

    The hard part was estimating intake, working out neutral calories for me and estimating various forms of exercise although most (running, cycling ) are available. The hard one in fact was hill walking which I do a lot. My best estimate was 60 cals/km + 100 cals per 100 metres ascent+descent. This may not be all strictly accurate but my weight loss tracked my equation almost perfectly sometimes spookily so.

    The 8000 in the equation is cals/kg of fat BTW. The above equation needs to be adjusted for body weight as lowering weight decreases the numerical effects of exercise - if you want to lose 3kg it matters not but in my case it was 35kg or ~40% of my final weight. I still have no feedback when I overeat I have to rely on estimates and scales but now it's become second nature and I can keep my weight ± 2kg.

    I have no pride in what I did I'm very sorry it was necessary but I think the message is for most ( probably nearly all people) too many calories need to be compensated for by starvation or preferably exercise. Many people I've discovered have the same lack of feedback to excessive intake and many people have a wildly optimistic view of the effects of exercise. ( a small Mars bar is equivalent to 3-4 miles of walking, sadly a pint needs 2 miles of walking )

    Another way of looking at it ; 100 cals extra/less exercise/food every day is equivalent to losing/gaining 4.5kg in a year. That easily goes to explain this 'epidemic'

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: OK I admit it

      This is very interesting, Chemist, thought about publishing the data somewhere? However, I'm not sure it applies to everybody. I have to say, I eat far more than is justified by my exercise levels; I'm a bit of a porker, but I don't seem to be getting any fatter as 50 approaches.

      In fact, I'm doing a little bit more exercise now, and it's making me lose weight, despite the fact it makes me hungry and I eat more. And by more, I don't mean slightly larger portions, I mean coming in from a 2.5km run and eating 3 slices of toast and honey - vastly more calories than I have theoretically burned. If my metabolism worked like yours apparently does, I'd be gaining several kg per month.

      1. Chemist

        Re: OK I admit it

        "thought about publishing the data somewhere? "

        Oh, it's almost all available if you have good access to the the biomedical literature. The only thing I really struggled with is the value for height gain as there seems to be a wide range in the literature. My final value of 100 cals/100m gain+loss and matches my actual loss rather well.

        Another interesting on-line source , esp to an IT audience, is a document by John Walker one of the Autocad founders although he lost weight mostly by calorie reduction.

        The Hacker's Diet

        How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition

        By John Walker

        Unfortunately I'd worked out my routine and lost a lot of weight before I found this.

        "coming in from a 2.5km run and eating 3 slices of toast and honey - vastly more calories than I have theoretically burned."

        You can't treat it like that. You need to know at the minimum how many calories/day will keep your weight steady. Is the toast etc in addition to that basal calorie level. There really is no magic in this for most people long term unless you are one of the 'lucky' ones with lots of brown fat (assuming it really exists/works in humans) or some metabolic issue ( malabsorption of fats for example)

      2. James Micallef Silver badge

        @John H Woods

        "I mean coming in from a 2.5km run and eating 3 slices of toast and honey - vastly more calories than I have theoretically burned. If my metabolism worked like yours apparently does, I'd be gaining several kg per month."

        My guess is that regular 2.5km runs increase your overall metabolic rate, so even if after the run you eat more calories than you burn on the run itself, you burn more calories even when not running and that keeps everything in equilibrium.

        Of course individual metabolic rates are very specific, but in general higher muscle mass requires more calories,so if you're building muscle even slightly by going running, that will help burn more calories long-term not just during the run itself.

  11. chivo243 Silver badge

    Sugar is as addictive as Crack?

    Keep the crack, I want some sugar in my tea. Believe me, I will burn it off walking from one call for help to another.

  12. Rich 2 Silver badge


    We bloody are getting fatter. I din't care what any statistics say; you only have to walk down any high street to see that there are lard-arses aplenty!

    And not just tubby; I'm talking grossly revolting fat.

    Righr - off to the fridge to find that extra-large pork pie I spotted earlier.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Re: Bollocks

      Well, I'm seriously overweight and have been for 40 years, my father lived and died fat, so did his mother. There seems to be a genetic component, and my thyroid gland shrivelled up and died at some pont. I think his did too. I exercise a bit, and am careful about consumption 8 days out of 10. I never eat fast food, drink fizzy drinks or alcohol. And i still have a 50 inch waist. So am I a statistic? More obese than 20 years ago? Or the same?

      1. Chemist

        Re: Bollocks

        "So am I a statistic"

        It doesn't matter ( from just a weight point of view not other health issues) what you eat/drink - count the calories (honestly) in what you eat/drink and if they are over approx 2500 a day and probably quite a bit less if you have a sedentary job then you'll gain weight

        1. ravenviz Silver badge

          Re: Bollocks

          Re: "So am I a statistic"

          Have you done any surveys, or been involved in any studies?

          If not, then No.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bollocks

        I can stay more-or-less about right, existing without thinking about it. But when I go on a doughnut binge, even if I don't actually eat much else - like, say, eat ten Sainsbury's jam doughnuts (aka 'Admirals', plural of 'a Derek' (Wolves and N. Ireland)) but nothing else, in a day, I'll get fat remarkably quick!

  13. Uffish

    I used to be a bit fatter...

    ... now I'm a bit slimmer. The 2 inch reduction in waist size coincided with eating a bit less and excercising a bit more. A lacadaisical monitoring of weight over a couple of years seems to show the following corrspondances:

    - eating more (e.g. Christmas) --> weight gain

    - excercising less (e.g. weeks of rain) --> weight gain

    - back to previous levels of eating and excercise --> weight loss

    Not scientific, not accurately recorded but nevertheless the result is that I think fat people eat too much and excercise too little.

  14. fridaynightsmoke

    Other people are too fat

    rabble rabble, this is definitely my business, rabble rabble.

    1. Uffish

      Re: Other people are too fat

      Damm right it is. Seating in 'planes and trains - paying for National Health services - bloody fat-waggons in shops etc - knowing that it is mostly greed ...

  15. asdf

    from the Land of McDonald's

    As a token American pretty sure there is no doubt in my homeland. Once it becomes acceptable in your culture to eat in the car its over.

  16. raving angry loony


    I left, so the national average weight went down. Apparently my local pub also had serious financial difficulties after I left. I'm apparently a one-person economic bonanza to pubs and restaurants. Works for me.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glad to see the mention of gut bacteria

    I think this demands a lot further study. We have only scratched the surface of this sort of study. For years, we thought the reason people got ulcers was purely down to stress. Then we found out a bacterium called h. pylori was responsible. Many people have it and don't show symptoms, but everyone with ulcers has it, and eradicating it will allow the ulcers to heal.

    What if you can catch obesity like you catch a cold, or be exposed to it by picking up someone's "more efficient" gut bacteria? Regardless of how well we clean, most people are exposed to fecal bacteria in tiny amounts on a regular basis. This may partially account for obesity running in families.

    We all know those people who are overweight even though they seem to eat normally and exercise, as well as those who seem to eat nothing but fast food and sweets and have a desk job but are skinny as a rail. It is easy to excuse this "oh, he has a slow metabolism" and "he has a fast metabolism", or assume that maybe the overweight person binges when no one is watching or the skinny one retreats to the bathroom to 'purge', but while that may be true in some cases there's no way it is true in all.

    Not suggesting this accounts for all obesity, but it should get more study. I just read an article where they developed a better way to do a "fecal transplant", which is used to get someone else's gut bacteria into you. Previously it required a tube inserted you know where to deliver the fresh (yes, it had to be fresh) donor feces, typically from a relative, which no one likes the idea of. It has helped cure people of issues like IBS.

    Now they will take feces from a healthy donor and freeze it, and they can be watched for a month or more to insure no health issues of any sort. The frozen feces is put into a capsule you swallow, which has a protective coating that allows it to survive the stomach and make it to the intestines. You take a dozen pills a day for two days and you're done. Still pretty unpleasant, but a lot less unpleasant than before. I would imagine many of those who struggle to lose weight and who say they're willing to "try anything" would be willing to try this, if it were shown to be effective.

  18. stupormundi

    Short, British lives

    While I agree there's everything wrong with the BMI, you guys are still fat, especially the girls. And getting fatter all the time. Not a big surprise, considering how the shops sell nearly exclusively processed "food". Don't believe the nice man who says it's all not so bad, you're screwed.

  19. Zog_but_not_the_first

    Don't forget...

    ... the female hormone residues that have been accumulating in the water supply for the past sixty years.

    Mine's the tinfoil jacket with hoody, natch.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't forget...

      This would be easy to check. People whose water supplies come from wells fed from aquifers should not show any increased incidence of obesity.

      In many areas such water is hundreds if not thousands of years old - it shows no increase in radiation attributable to atomic testing, so being older than 1945 would also be free of female hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, fluoride, and man made chemicals.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Don't forget...

        Not to mention the parts of the country fed by direct rainwater supplies. Also many of the contaminants people worry about (e.g. growth hormone) don't get absorbed orally.

  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    Their numbers or my numbers?

    I too know how to do stat analysis and the first thing you do is do the actual count yourself.

    When it comes to people, this is easily accomplished by going to a public place for a day where you can count at least 3000 people. Then you note the number of fat people.

    When you see that number of fat people are higher than the number of not-fat people (the word used to be "normal") you think, "maybe I ought to visit several other places to confirm this". When the number still remains the same, i.e. more fat people than normal people, it's easy to see that these reports are damned lies.

  21. MJI Silver badge

    As a fatter person

    My issue is sitting at a desk all day and too tired to take many walks in the evening.

    I don't eat as much as I did when young either

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: As a fatter person

      I don't drink (alcohol) as much as I did when I was young. "Beer is a nutrient", the apologists claim as they stumble between the comatose bodies on the floor/pavement.

      Inheritance comes into it. I am the same shape as my mother's brother and their father. We have all seen that some people are beanpoles and others are roly-poly.

    2. Jesrad

      Re: As a fatter person

      One persistent myth in nutrition that needs to die, is that calories' total net "offset" determines weight loss or gain. It's the other way around: those calories that get snatched from your bloodstream and sequestered in your adipocytes become unavailable for doing anything. In simpler words, fattening up makes you lethargic or increases your appetite to compensate for the calories locked away (or a combination of both).

      The good news is, it works both ways. In the study detailed here: giving an insulin-blocking drug to obese kids spontaneously made them spring outside and play instead of staying in front of the TV. All because the same calories that used to go stack up in their slab had become available for their muscles to use up.

      1. Chemist

        Re: As a fatter person

        "sequestered in your adipocytes become unavailable for doing anything. "

        Sorry fat makes an important contribution to exercise calories especial endurance. The reason for having adipocytes in any case is to be a longer-term store of energy. There'd be no point if the energy couldn't be used.

  22. JP19

    Of course it is mostly bullshit

    The real problem is the number of people who accept and regurgitate such bullshit without question.

    We have more of a gullibility than obesity crisis.

  23. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    A personal experience

    I'm 5ft 11, and until a couple of months ago was 14.5 stone. I was getting plenty of exercise, but was eating too many doughnuts (brought in for all of us by a well meaning secretary). Just cutting those out and making no other changes has brought my weight down to 13.5 stone, which is what I used to weight about 30 years ago. The only downside is that I'm going have to buy new, slimmer, trousers.

    According to the BMI stuff, that still leaves me about a stone 'overweight'. I disagree.

    1. Chemist

      Re: A personal experience

      "According to the BMI stuff, that still leaves me about a stone 'overweight'. I disagree."

      As others have pointed out BMI is, at best, a 'rough' guide to individuals. It should act as a check - if it suggests you are overweight then look at other measures such as waist size or better still body-fat percentage - this is the real target - a fit individual should have plenty of muscle and a relatively small amount of fat. Unfortunately this is the hardest parameter to measure - most easy measures are poor surrogates for MRI scans.

    2. Roger Greenwood

      Re: A personal experience

      And there, for many, is the thing we should do as we get older:- miss a meal every day (or 2).

      In your case (Will) it was the doughnuts (or donuts?), for others it may be easier to miss the mid day meal. Do you need a mid day meal? Of course not. Do you miss it? Yes. Can you get used to it? Yes - go for a walk instead.

      With regard to the statistics, do these take into account an aging and longer lived population? It seems that as we age we don't change our food habits much, but we do slow down and therefore expand.

    3. Tom 38

      Re: A personal experience

      I always thought that the BMI stuff was bollocks too, but I think it is largely right if you are of average size.

      I wasn't just a little tubby, I was morbidly obese and unfit. I'm a smidgen under 6ft, and weighed over 20 st/285lb/130kg, a BMI of 37, and was massively fed up of it.

      I quit smoking (ish), and cut my diet to around 1000 calories per day - 3 satsumas for breakfast, an Eat noodle salad and another satsuma for lunch, more satsumas in the afternoon, and an M&S "Fuller for Longer" ready meal with some extra veg, and lots of cups of tea during the day.

      1000 calories a day is damn hard. At the start, I'd keep failing to keep to it, but eventually, your stomach shrinks, and you feel less hungry all the time as a result, and the number of days a week where you fail gets smaller and smaller.*

      At the same time, I started doing more exercise. Not actual "put on special exercising clothes" exercise; I walked to the station after work as fast as possible without sweating too much for 20 minutes. If it starts taking less than 20 minutes to get to that station, go a different route.

      This diet and moderate exercise has let me lose weight regularly at the rate of 2lb a week; I've been doing it just over a year now, and I've lost about 105 lb, or 7 stone. My waist has gone from 46" to 34" - I have had to buy new trousers and belts almost every other month...

      This was about BMI, right? So, the interesting thing about losing so much weight is that I have passed through every BMI stage apart from "Underweight" in the last year. For me, they all seemed pretty on the ball. I was definitely still overweight when I was "Overweight (25-30)", and I still have some more to lose now. When I was 14 stone I was sure that another 7lb would do it, now I am 12st 10lb, and I still think another 7lb needs to come off. I'm not a beanstalk either, I have very broad chest and shoulders.

      My BMI now is around 24.5, which puts me in the "Healthy" category, but I'm still dieting to remove the last of my visceral fat and doing some more intensive exercise (couch 2 5k) to try and tighten up my loose skin.

      * I changed the diet after about 8 months, as I found a) I was getting slightly bored of satsumas, and b) there was not enough roughage in that diet (Pro tip: do not get dehydrated when eating a diet with poor roughage..). Changed breakfast to two weetabix, a banana and the smallest amount of milk possible to make it edible, and I now mix and match my fruits, satsumas, pears, apples, peaches, nectarines; whatever looks good at the corner store.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You guys*, have you never wondered, how, no matter if she is tall or short the important parts fit and come together without problems. The reason for this is that the distance from where the food goes in, to where what is left goes out, is more or less the same no matter how tall or short you are. It's all about the length of your legs. (as we decided to develop longer legs we apparently decided to develop longer arms too, looks better that way). Very short people look "funny" because their legs and arms just look to short for the rest of the body, even the head tends to look too big, just an illusion though.

    So the added length is in no way linear to your weight. If I had a suitable corps I could prove it but I haven't got one and I prefer to be a coward and very anonymous and If I wasn't my beer icon would explain any additional questions and if the good people at ElReg find reasons to skip this comment then that is OK too. Still the additional length and weight is not all that straight forward.

    *or girls.

  25. Half a metric tonne

    I'll weigh in - excuse the pun

    wiggers says: "You lose weight in the kitchen and gain health in the gym. It's 80% diet, 20% exercise."

    Couldn't be any more true in my opinion. There are a few things worth saying though.

    Firstly BMI makes no sense at all. If a taller person were a proportionally scaled up version of a smaller person, you would expect that their mass (which is proportional to volume of course) would increase with the cube of their height. The BMI adjusts mass by the square of the height. Given that the population is getting taller, I am not in the least surprised that BMIs are getting higher. One thing that is very interesting is that if use BMI as a measure of obesity, we find that tall people are generally more obese. If, on the other hand we assume that tall people and short people should, cross-sectionally, have an equal amount of obesity; and we perform a statistical fit to compute the relationship between height and weight, we find that a more appropriate measure of BMI would be weight / height ^ 2.5 (ish).

    Secondly, carbs are the real issue in our diets. The evidence for this is mounting. Even if we correct the deeply flawed BMI measure, we find that the populations of many western countries (UK and USA for example) are getting much more obese. This occurs during a period when consumption of carbohydrate is actually reducing. If we go back about 30-40 years, the population of the USA got about 30% of its calories from fat, now they only get about 20% of calories from fat. But the calories from carbohydrates has gone up 10 percentage points during the same period. Why do carbs make you fat? As many people routinely point out, the only reason you get fat is if you take on (and digest) more calories than you expend in exercise (and base metabolism etc.). Why should calories from carbs be so much worse than calories from protein, or even fat? The answer is simple. When we eat a carb heavy meal, the body produces insulin to control the sugar level in the blood. When that insulin starts to dissipate an hour or 2 later, we suffer an insulin crash which makes us hungry again. Some people have no problem controlling that hunger, but many people end up snacking. That increases caloric intake. Furthermore, the body has many mechanisms to shut down appetite so we don't overeat. Certain sugars, especially fructose (but remember that sucrose is no more than a fructose and a glucose joined with a particularly weak bond), don't shut down our appetite through any metabolic pathway. This contributes to overeating.

    I learnt about a lot of this because many years ago I got a medical condition which resulted in me putting on a lot of weight. I had a BMI of 44. Once the medical condition was under control I decided to start losing weight. I did a lot of gym time (this has the nice side effect of increasing your base metabolism), but it didn't result in any meaningful weight loss. As a final throw of the dice I went to see a doctor specialising in obesity. The doctor recommended a low-carb diet. Not an eat as much as you can, no carb diet (as some people seem to think the Atkins diet is). Over the course of less than a year my BMI came down to 30. Funnily enough, according to BMI I'm still obese. But no-one who saw me would agree.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: I'll weigh in - excuse the pun

      If I get my BMI to the right weight for my 6'2 inches height then I look like a pipe-cleaner man.

      After 4 years of gym weights I stacked on muscle and have very low % body fat. Muscle is heavier than fat, so my BMI says I'm overweight. My appearance is normal proportions.

      BMI is like a shoe shop only stocking size 10 shoes for men, and size 5 shoes for women.

  26. localzuk Silver badge

    So many causes!

    Trying to analyse it in a cursory manner is never going to get to the bottom of it.

    Things like modern medicines, the types of fats and the types of carbs in foods all have their parts to play. Add in lack of exercise and you've got a nice mix.

    Of course some people's bodies will behave differently than others, but it won't account for the large-scale increase in obesity. For example, until I was about 25, I had to eat 3500 calories a day minimum to simply maintain my weight. I wasn't particularly active either. Just very tall compared to the national average.

    Now though, if I eat 1 calorie over the daily recommended amount, I can watch extra fat appear on my waistline.

  27. DocJames


    As has been eloquently pointed out above, BMI is perfectly good as a population measure of obesity (or lack thereof). Unless the average person is close to spherical, cubing height does not make sense. It reflects population mortality stats, but is inaccurate at a personal level (or at least, not conclusive).

    Weight gain = calories in - calories out (although we should all be using joules, or maybe el reg units of Paris, but I don't know what 2-8ml of fructose works out as). Unless you're going to deny the second law of thermodynamics on the basis of your gut feeling (sic)... oh, and this is backed up whenever the empirical careful energy balance studies are done - generally with students, as you have to be locked up for weeks at a time with measured food portions and measured exercise (stationary bike).

    I meet many people who need to lose weight. For most it is a psychological inability. And for all those who claim their genetics make them fat (like their parents), I sigh at their lack of understanding of environment.

    My handy weight loss advice: watch fluids (alcohol, fizzy drinks, fruit juice) - easiest to switch

    watch snacks between meals - most people deny many, then come back thoughtful

    watch portion sizes - buy smaller plates

    if still not losing weight (or at the beginning if you don't believe me) keep a food diary - which needs to be religious. I did this once and was hungry the whole weekend as it was such a pain to have to write everything down. Seeing what you eat recorded accurately is quite a shock.

    COI: height ~1.9, wt ~75kg. I'll get my coat - it's the skinny one

  28. tojb

    artificial sweeteners make you fat

    Nature article here:

    Looks conclusive to my reading, saccharin et al throw a spanner in your gut ecology leading to fatness and other digestive & metabolic difficulties.

    1. Tom 38

      Re: artificial sweeteners make you fat

      Nah, eating lots of calories makes you fat. You are saying that consuming artificial sweeteners makes you prone to consume more calories overall, which may be true.

      If you want to lose weight, then if you have to choose between a Coke and a Diet Coke, the Diet Coke is the better choice. If you are going to choose between a Coke, a Diet Coke and an Evian, the Evian is the better choice.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Calories not so much addictive

    as habit forming.

    We (as a whole) are getting fatter because we are taking the same calories in that we did when we had much more active lifestyles.

    Eat slightly less and walk everywhere (at pace).

    As you lose weight you are either going to have to continue to eat less and less or do more physical work (take stairs 2 at a time and run up short flights).

    It can take a while to replace the habit of a lifetime with a new one.

  30. pop_corn

    So calories are reducing, yet we're still getting fatter? Hopefully more people will start to realise that weight change is not just a function of calories in vs calories out. It's the breakdown of the macro-nutrient balance (protein:carb:fat) that's important. More details here:

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe my perception of a nation of fatties is that my neighbourhood is in decline. Maybe the number of obese persons has remained roughly constant but the extent of their obesity has increased so we are more aware of those who are waddling around blocking the supermarket aisles - or even so vast they require wheelchairs. There is the issue of Brits being too polite to call a spade a spade and not letting fatties know we think they are fat.

    There is the issue of the attitude fatties take

    1) telling us that calling them fat is as bad as using the N word for a gentleman of African origin

    2) Declaring "fat is beautiful" and blaming the fashion industry for failing to cater for their needs. And guys, its our fault for not appreciating that. I briefly had a lardy ladyfriend (online dating). She had described herself as "petite" but was size 26/28, she based the "petite" claim on only being 5ft tall. She sweated profusely and consequently was rather smelly and she lied about her age "because everyone says I look 10 years younger". No way to start a relationship. I updated my dating site profile to say I'd like a partner less than size 16 - That attracted loads of abusive comments from fatties. (BTW it took persistance but I did end up with a real catch, we've been married for several years now). My apparent focus on size will attract negative comment from fatties - yes size is only one of many factors. I don't want stupid, ugly women either but somehow they are less inclined to self identify and tell me I'm unfairly discriminating against them.

    3) It's psychological. That may be the reason but it's not an excuse - the treatment is psychiatry.

    4) I've got a sedentary job. OK so you're not burning as many calories - so don't consume so many

    5) Its the fault of the food industry. No it's your fault for buying their monster family bucket of lard and eating it all yourself.

    6) "its my genes" or "its my glands" or "it's a medical problem" No it's a brain problem, the inability to say no to another doughnut. I believe there are a few genuine exceptions, real medical issue for some people. That's a piece of news every fattie loves, it allows them to claim the same.

    My doctor told me my blood pressure and other problems were exacerbated by my weight and prescribed medication to reduce BP. My reasoning went a different way. Medication was treating the symptoms, surely better to remove the cause. I lost weight, it wasn't easy and that's an issue in itself, there are people for whom if anything in life isn't easy their solution is not to make the effort. At my next checkup she asked how I'd done that and seemed surprised by the answer "eating less". Exercise is a good thing but as a way of losing weight it's problematic, we are very efficient at converting food to work and muscle.

    Anyway it's not all bad news, fatties are at greater risk of disease and early death from causes including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney and liver failure.

    There are factors relating to food intake that skew the results. The calories used to digest some salad veg, fruit, vegetables especially uncooked, are greater than the calories absorbed from that food. Raw carrot will deliver fewer calories than cooked carrot.

    The brain burns 20% of our calories, in my perception the obese tend "not to be the brightest" perhaps their brains are not achieving that burn rate...

    1. Chemist

      "Exercise is a good thing but as a way of losing weight it's problematic, we are very efficient at converting food to work and muscle."

      No it's absolutely equivalent to dieting the difficulty is doing enough of it to lose a large amount quickly. As I mention earlier I lost 35kg by keeping my intake ~2300 cals and upping my exercise to quite a large amount - not possible for everyone I know. I now measure all exercise in calories which not only keeps the arithmetic simple but concentrates the mind wonderfully when about to eat almost anything - this meal needs 15 miles of walking to be calorie neutral.

      BTW if we were very good at converting food to work and muscle a lot of people would be star weightlifters. What we are good at doing is storing excess energy as fat. Dieting depletes all body stores : glycogen, fat and lean tissue/muscle. That's another good reason not to lose weight just by dieting.

    2. Chemist

      "My doctor told me my blood pressure and other problems were exacerbated by my weight "

      When I started to lose weight my blood pressure was 170/95 and I was determined to avoid medication if possible (ironic since a colleague and I developed the manufacturing route to one of the world's first $1Billion/year drugs for hypertension)

      By the time I'd lost 15kg my blood pressure was 155/85 and by my target of 80kg it was 125/80. (Researching the literature in this area has led me to the conclusion that our heterogeneous human population has a very wide spread of BP/weight responses and it looks like I was one of the lucky ones)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You are like the ex-smoker who has nothing but vitriol for smokers. Well done for losing weight, a shame that you now demonize fat people, call them names, call them stupid. I'm sure when you were overweight you would not have appreciated someone coming up to you and saying "Hey fattie! You're pretty fat you fattie fat fuck. You must be pretty stupid to be so fat, fattie".

      There are many reasons for being overweight, how many reasons are there for being a sanctimonious prick?

    4. LucreLout


      "There are factors relating to food intake that skew the results. The calories used to digest some salad veg, fruit, vegetables especially uncooked, are greater than the calories absorbed from that food. Raw carrot will deliver fewer calories than cooked carrot."

      Is there any possibility of a citation for that please? I had understood that no food provides a net calorie burn.

      1. Tom 38

        Re: @AC

        I had understood that no food provides a net calorie burn.

        Well, to be a pedant, if it provided no net calorie burn, a) we're unlikely to eat it and b) we're very unlikely to describe it as food. Eating grass has little to none nutritional benefit for us, since we lack the advanced stomachs to use it, and we wouldn't normally refer to "grass" as a food.

        There is one vegetable that is known for being so chewy and fibrous that it takes a lot of calories to masticate it fully, and since it is so rough we are hardly able to break it down when raw - the humble celery. This is often cited as a negative calorie food, but whilst chewing a whole stick of celery will only give you maybe 10 calories, the energy expended chewing is only about a pitiful 2 calories.

        I guess if you chewed for an hour or more..

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's an addiction and a sickness. I got addicted to the taste of fatty and sugary food but I'll tell you something I'm not blaming anyone but myself. I had a choice to stop stuffing my face during all those years I piled on the pounds. No one made me do it but like any junkie you you hate the downers, they make you feel like shit. That's what the food manufacturers love. They know you're addicted to the crappy junk food but worse they know you can't handle cold turkey if you stop eating shite! That's their secret, you're hooked and you can't handle being without it.

    I ate too much of the wrong crap ( it was crap! ) and didn't do enough exercise. Oh I can come up with loads of excuses, my boss was a bully and I hated the job ( perfectly true ), so there was comfort eating to plain old , "I simply liked greasy fat, crappy food!". I not tarting it up with any other word than fat. I dropped 6 stone a few years back, I'm still too fat but I've stabilised my weight and I'm constantly making changes all the time. I now have an outdoor hobby that gets me out and about walking more. I don't drink any soft drinks anymore, just purely water with an the odd splash of lime juice ( I don't like tea or coffee ). I eat my 5 a day. I catch a the train to work an hour early than I need so I can get off a few stops early and walk the last mile or two. My asthma issues are now non-existent due to the amount of weight I dropped.

    How did I wake up to all that? My daughter was born and I realised that she would end up like me if I didn't stop living the life of a fat slob. My wife got bullied at school for being fat ( a medical condition brought on by kidney failure ), we wanted to make sure our daughter never ended up like either of us. We all eat healthily now. Our daughter goes swimming 4 times a week and loves any opportunity to do sport at school. Hopefully putting her on the right track will ensure she never does the same damage I've done to myself.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And now my turn,

    Just started my research for the 5:2 diet (during the week, eat normally for 5 days, pick 2 days where you keep caloric intake down to 600 cals for a man, 500 for a woman).

    Started with some basic inputs:

    My BMI is 30.7 (makes me officially overweight - severely obese). Standing in front of the mirror, I am definitely heavy but not a blimp. But I have put myself down as sedentary even though I climb lots of stairs and walk a bit.

    My BMR is 1518 calories (Basal Metabolic Rate, what I expend in 24 hours just doing nothing)

    My TDEE is 1821 calories (Total Daily Energy Expenditure, what I need to eat to keep my weight steady)

    I have now started counting my calories (not 100% convinced this works, but what the hell) and by lunchtime I have already consumed 923 calories, which is roughly half of my TDEE,.

    So far so good.

    I'll know more after a week, but already suspect that alcohol intake will be the real culprit here.

    Since I like my red wine (91 cals a glass) and adore Guiness (210 cals a pint), it doesn't require any heavy number crunching to figure out where the excess consumption is coming from.

    1. Chemist

      Re: And now my turn,

      "I'll know more after a week,"

      Well done to get started.

      A few points. A week is a very short time, body weight can change day to day quite a lot, in my case easily swamping a weeks loss. When I was losing 2-3 kg a week it didn't matter but at lower rates it's easy to be fooled and so disheartened. Best is to plot your weight every day at the same time/scales/position of scales. and then apply an exponential moving average to the plot. This tends to give an indicator of trend. Also when you first cut calories esp. dramatically several confounding trends occur such as fluid loss or retention and esp. a lowering of basal metabolic rate. You may feel cold. Regular exercise should help to boost/maintain your metabolic rate.

      For breakfast and lunch I tended to stick to foods where the calories were easy to measure/estimate (cereal/milk, crispbreads/jam fruit).

      Problem with most expenditure over basal is measuring/estimating it. You could use a pedometer but even the recommended 30mins brisk walking is only likely to be ~200 cals/day. 1 flight of stairs is only likely to be ~3 cals .

      Good luck

      1. Tom 38

        Re: And now my turn,

        My tips are:

        Eat less, move more.

        Your diet is not the food you eat when you are trying to lose weight, it is the food you eat all the time. You will not lose weight by trying to briefly change your existing food, you need to permanently alter the food you consume.

        Arrange your diet so you are hungry when you are at work and asleep - work keeps you distracted, use tea and fruit as a further distraction, eat early in the evening so that you are feeling a bit peckish when you go to bed. It's not that eating late at night is bad for you, it's that if you are going to be hungry for 8 hours, its best to do it when you are unconscious as you will probably eat less.

        Your weight is on a cycle. Don't get down on yourself until you understand your weight cycle. Always weigh yourself at the same time of day. You can lose/gain 3-6lb solely by dehydrating/over-hydrating yourself - don't.

        Don't be too anal about measuring things. It's good to know roughly how many calories you are shoving down the pie hole, you don't need to weigh your fruit + veg. I've lost over 100lb, I've never calculated my BMR, TDEE nor weighed my food nor tracked my exercise nor recorded my daily weights. I measure my weight once a day, and record it about once every 2-3 months, to check on overall rates - that's it.

        Low fat, low sugar, reduced and balanced carbs, slightly reduced protein. Anything you eat, think "is there something I can eat that is tastier than this and better for me?" and have that instead. Use NLP to change your thinking so that it is tastier for you.

        Make eating a ritual. Eating an apple? Cut it up into 32 equal sized slices first. It will last longer, you spend more time thinking "Mmm. apple.", and it is a more satisfactory experience.

        Most importantly, there is a human endocrine signal that most people call hunger. This signal developed when we were hunter-gathererers, and it lets us know that "hey buddy! we're going to need some food down here sometime soon. You'd better go hunting and gathering PDQ". Thing is, we don't need that signal anymore, food is everywhere, and so we treat that signal as "hey buddy! go eat something!". Learn to tolerate this signal. When you get it, look over to the fridge full of food and say "job done, done my gathering". Don't eat something until you do get the "go eat something" signal, which is unmissable when it gets there, or it is time to eat something.

        I think the last one is the most crucial part of any will power driven exercise - identify the feeling, learn to tolerate/love the feeling, and live with it.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    from 2005 through to 2012 I can say that I observed personally quite a large increase in the size of young teenagers (13-17)

    in 2005 I purchased a bungee trampoline ride (where you get put in a harness and can then do flips etc aided by bungee cords)

    the ride uses 3 sizes of harness with a degree of overlap between them

    yellow (toddler up to around 10 years old)

    red (10 years old upwards / up to around a 34 inch waist)

    blue (anything over 32 inch waist)

    in 2005 the ride operated 4 trampolines with 1 yellow, and 3 red harnesses (one of which was changed for blue if needed)

    by 2012 the ride ran the same trampolines but now had to use 1 yellow, 1 red and 2 blue harnesses

    over the years in between we saw no change in the age range that was being attracted to the ride (main demographic was 5 - 17 year olds with a distinct female bias) but did find that the sizes of harness we required was increasing year on year along with the number of potential customers that we had to turn away because they were simply too heavy for the ride or they physically would not fit in the largest harness

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The BMI assertions are sadly mistaken, there is a perpetual wrong idea that lay people churn out that BMI is flawed because of the body composition issue. There is a sliver of truth in this in that yes there are a tiny proportion of people that are best referred to as "Elite Power Athletes" and another group called "Pregnant Women" that BMI will not be useful for but this is well-known and irrelevant to BMIs used as a population statistic. The mistake people then make is to say that "Oh yes it applies to populations but not me" - well let us consult the people who have actually done the research


    Body mass index is an adequate measure of adiposity for clinical purposes. In the context of lay press critiques of BMI and recommendations for alternative body-size measures, these data support clinicians making recommendations to patients based on BMI measurements."

  36. Jabberwocky906

    Calorie Consumption vs Eating

    A missing piece of the puzzle about how calorie consumption can drop but weight increase seems to be that we are considering calorie consumption only through ingestion. It would be interesting to see our calorific "intake" in terms of food consumption PLUS the energy-slave quota; for instance our grandparents would use a lot of calorie intake to keep warm whereas we generally keep warm through the consumption (but not ingestion) of energy calories. Obviously some of our energy-slave consumption is not relevant to the argument (for instance when comparing activities that simply wern't available and have no direct corellation). It seems pretty straightforward to me that we are using less of the ingested calories and storing more of them, because despite the overall drop in calories ingested we are probably outstripping our grandparents calorie consumption by a wide margin.

    1. RumRunner

      Re: Calorie Consumption vs Eating

      I wouldn't say it's a missing piece of the puzzle. It's more like the canary in the coal-mine, that shows current thinking to be wrong.

      People are fat for one reason only: their body is not processing fat. They are lacking the right bacterial mix to process it, whereas other people don't. The way round that is either by "poo transfer", or by EATING MORE FAT. If you feed a body ONLY fat, the body has to get pretty darn efficient at processing it.

      I'm on a high-fat diet and have my first six-pack for 20 years....

  37. disgruntled yank

    Of course I can evaluate the biomedical evidence

    I work with computers!

  38. ravenviz Silver badge

    BMI is like SatNav

    You don't just rely on one source of information to make decisions, it's just a tool to give you an idea of the direction you're going, and possibly to help describe to you how you can reach your destination (if you want to get there).

    Cross the flooded ford at your peril!

  39. Tikimon

    True, but looking at wrong metrics!

    This debate and proposed solutions all measure the wrong things. Weight and BMI are useless. What we need is a measure of FITNESS, and nobody has an easy metric to collect for that one.

    Fat is energy storage and does not equate directly to fitness. Very fit people can carry extra fat without problems, just as skinny people can be unfit. BMI is worse than useless - it says my lean, hard mountain biker body is borderline obese.

    We need to use some measure of FITNESS, which would tell a more true story. This would require a treadmill test or something, much harder to obtain. BMI and weight are easy to acquire and slot into a database, so they keep being used in spite of their unsuitability for the task.

  40. V_Eight

    I spoke with a biologist who works with cellular medium. I don't know the field at all but got some interesting general information.

    I have always been better in cold environments then hot and maintain body temps better in cold. This as I have been led to believe is an genetic adaptation. When quizzing the biologist she said that the calories burned maintaining body temp at the cellular level are next to nothing. Perhaps 100 a day.

    Anyone have any data on this? My searches have yet to yield more data.

    1. Chemist


      "When quizzing the biologist she said that the calories burned maintaining body temp at the cellular level are next to nothing. Perhaps 100 a day."

      I've no idea of the actual figure but AFAIK the bulk of heat generated in the body is the result of exothermic chemical reactions during metabolism - indeed this is why exercise makes you hot as glucose/fats are oxidized at an elevated rate to produce the high-energy phosphates that power muscles. Indeed any fat/glucose not consumed will be converted into storage forms such as lipid stores or muscle & liver glycogen. If the glycogen stores are full the excess glucose will be converted to fat.

      BTW It may be obvious but burning 1kg of fat or glucose out in the open air generates the same amount of heat as metabolising it does.

      There is some evidence that (some ?) humans have a brown fat that can short circuit the usual metabolic process and generate heat 'on demand' under hormonal or nervous system control. This is separate from the other thermogenic technique of shivering to generate an increased thermal input.

    2. A J Stiles

      By definition, 1 kcal = the amount of energy required to make 1 kg. of water, 1°C hotter. About 4.2 kJ.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Yes, we are all getting too fat, BUT.......

    BMI only works for spherical chickens in a vacuum.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hunter gatherer much

    Back in the day if you wanted to eat a mountainside of strawberries you’d have to climb a mountainside. Somewhere on that track you might realise your hunger was satiated and stop.

    Now you could eat a complete mountain of strawberries, from your settee with the TV on, being so engrossed in the program and frequent adverts you even miss the “not-so-hungry-now“ signals and eat to the end of the serving/bag/plate/pack.

    If you wanted to eat meat you'd probably have to wait a while, run like buggery for a bit or exchange work for those who did.

    Now you might have to reach over to the phone.

    Rename cars daibetes boxes, and cycling/walking "effort commuting" it will begin to make sense.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Hunter gatherer much

      "Hunter gatherer much "

      Summarizing what I've researched about this aspect of diet/behaviour :

      Humans still have the basic physiology of hunter-gatherers from 10000+ years ago. It's estimated ( from the nearest we have to hunter gatherers today) that they expended ~~1400 cals average in physical activity every day as well as having a relatively low-calorie diet especially low in simple sugars.

      Our metabolism, although wonderfully adaptable, still probably reflects this.

  43. John Savard

    Wrong Graph

    I'm sorry, but the graph in the article simply does not do anything to refute the claim of a recent obesity crisis. The question at issue is whether we are much fatter now than we were in 1960 and 1970, not whether things have gotten worse since 2000, when this crisis was already in full swing.

  44. mikie

    seems to be a hot topic

    probably because of the number of us having to sit in front of a screen for our day jobs


    BMI is p flawed if you are tall

    Body Adipose Index might be more useful but needs further study to see if it lines up with predictions of morbidity.

    but in the end it is very simple

    calories in < calories out to lose weight

    better to increase your output and find a way to break the "cycle of sitting"

    I got an australian shepherd dog (laid back collie) that needs walked twice a day, that and not eating my "bliss point treat" in the weekend evenings got me from 112kg to 90kg and a 38" waist to a 34" in about 12 months.

    I now combine it with some really simple core exercises that i can do in front of the TV at night and swimming lengths when the kids are getting their swimming lessons rather than sitting in the cafe.

    I would really like a standing desk + a low speed treadmill.

    The faecal transplant stuff is another expression of the "there must be a way of solving this that doesn't involve me actually doing anything"

    Your gut flora changes significantly with any alteration in diet (why wouldnt it) and the only studies done in humans were based on torturing one guy in Japan.

    -good treament for C. Diff. infection though

    And finally

    As the HSE statistics say the above in the OP then they (like many many many national statistics) are frighteningly wrong.

    cf 100% self-reported handwashing compliance statistics in the NHS along with a concomitant explosion in nosocomial infection due in a large part to poor handwashing.

    The pressure for people to underreport has increased with time as it becomes less acceptable to be overweight.

    Better to look at something less open to bias like type 2 diabetes rates/alzheimer's/heart disease (increasing against a background of smoking numbers going down) etc

  45. Jim 59


    It's no good blaming others. However fat or slim you are, we all understand the temptation to eat more and more. In 2014 I would be thought of as slim. In 1975 I would have been slightly chubby. But like others, I could eat less food, and better. If you want to see what healthy weight looks like, check out almost any photo taken before 1984-ish.

    Neither does it help to tell weighty folks that it is okay to be very, very obese, as some well meaning TV programmes do, for example. It isn't. Being enourmous can lead to a short, uncomfortable and less happy life. It is kinder to (politely) tell people that early on, and help them avoid it. Pretending otherwise is the worst kind if cruelty.

    1. RumRunner

      Re: Obesety

      "It's no good blaming others."

      People should take responsibility for themselves, sure, but it is worth blaming others- if "others" are the ones giving the government "healthy eating" guidelines - because the advice they give is plain wrong. They demonize the most energy dense, long-burning, foodsource - Fat, and praise quick-fix sugary fuits and opiod containing wheat.

      If people ate more fat, and less (read no) wheat they will lose fat, as their bodies will process fat more efficiently. It becomes great fuel instead of a spare tyre. If they ate no sugar (inc fruits) or rich carbs their bodies bacteria will shift to fat burning mode. If they drowned their vegetables in butter, and ate the fat on their meat there would be no obesity crisis.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Obesety

        "If people ate more fat, and less (read no) wheat they will lose fat, as their bodies will process fat more efficiently. It becomes great fuel instead of a spare tyre."

        Fat is a great fuel, that's why we store it - for the bad times. It's a great fuel IF you actually use the calories it contains. I can't imaging what you think happens to this "more efficiently" processed fat IF you don't actually use the calories it contains - do you think that this "efficient processing" makes it disappear into thin air ? Or do you really believe the bacteria in your gut can metabolise excess fat in the diet without consequence. At the very least you'll get VERY hot. Food is measured in calories for a very good reason. 100g of fat is 800,000 calories or 3MJ. If that's metabolised, by you or bacteria, unless you lose a lot of it as high energy waste (like methane) the metabolism will result in a good proportion of 3MJ appearing as heat. If a large proportion IS converted to methane that's in the order of ~~50L (which is flatulence with a vengeance)

  46. Hans 1

    My BMI is 19.4.

    My family members call me "skinny". I eat a lot, a hell of a lot, and work from home. I do walk all over town (I am the tree-hugger on 'ere, remember). I eat mostly good (as in high quality) food. I probably take the kids to the McD once a year, and even then only after something extraordinary has happened.

    No soda house, though we do have Nutella - I do not eat that stuff, "Ich bin doch nicht blöd". The kids eat it ... long boring story.

    My sister is obese, she lives in the UK, when she comes to visit in France she is always amazed ... she really feels obese here, back in the UK, she feels "overweight".

    You need to, at the very least, walk, even if you can only manage a few hundred yards, do that daily until you are no longer out of breath and move on from there (add more yards) - shit, how hard can it be.

    Oh, and the disease "excuse" is just that, a lousy excuse. Eat less crap (ever heard of a dietician ??) get a move on and you will burn fat, disease or not disease. The fact that you keep falling means that you are not taking in enough of the nutrients that your body needs - your body DOES NOT need carbohydrates/fat, just drastically cut on that and you'll see. Go eat tons of steam-cooked/oven-cooked cod, as much as you like ... that is healthy, cheap, and with fennel + a microscopic "helping" of olive oil and lemon juice it is indeed very tasty.

    Now please, stop lying to yourself.

  47. Tom 7

    A case of can't see the sticks

    for the logs?

  48. richardjo

    Data quality

    Several good points, but the article is overstated. Thus, data on BMI (for example) are very solid, whereas caloric intake data are soft and sketchy. Also, while both heating and AC no doubt affect metabolism, the heating effect is direct (you burn more calories to stay warm) the direct effects of cooling on metabolism are minor. The main effect is by keeping you indoors, away from exercise.

  49. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    BMI and bodybuilders

    "BMI is a decent measure of a population's tubbiness, which is what it was intended as."

    Except it's not a decent measure; it's hard to take BMI seriously when it classifies most bodybuilders as morbidly obese.

  50. RumRunner

    Thanks Mr Worstall. These people need challenging at every opportunity.

    One criticism though. You maintain the link with eating fat and being fat. That link, is at best, fuzzy, and at worst completely broken.

    I've been on a high-fat diet for a couple of months and have the first six-pack I've had for twenty years. Without excercise. And I feel fantastic. The reason people are fat is because their body is inefficient at processing fat. If their body receives other fuel sources (glucose) then their body will burn those preferentially and store the fat. If most of your calories are fat (ketones) then your body *must* burn it to get energy - and it does. The bacteria doing the work change.

    Feed one twin the same as the other, and one may get fat, the other not. Exactly the same food. The difference is one twin has bacteria that burns fat effectively, while the other doesn't.

    There's nothing wrong with fat. Butter is good. Oils are good. Deep frying is probably bad, but in general fat is good long burning energy (think coal) while "healthy" carbs are short burning energy (think a handful of twigs). I have energy all day, compared to people who peak and crash all day. Wheat also has opiods - which explains the craving to eat....

    If you want the body to be more efficient at burning fat - feed it fat. Avoid carbs. (But also eat lots of veggies - dripping in butter). The body burns the stored fat in the spare tyre just as easily as it burns the fat you feed it.

    Also my calorific intake is (I would think - I don't measure) much higher than previously. But I lost weight. So the link between calories and fat is also broken.

    I'd advise people to look up the Paleo diet and the Bulletproof diet. They work (I'm proof). You don't count calories. You eat as much as you like. You never go hungry. And you lose weight.

    Aside from that - a great article.

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