Dr. James Bailes Jr.: Government focus to fight obesity is misguided
Obesity in the United States is increasing at epidemic proportions. This is true among adults as well as children. We are seeing diseases such as Type II diabetes occurring at younger and younger ages.
If something is not done to stem this burgeoning tide of obesity, the health care system that we know today will soon crumble due to the dramatic increase we are seeing in Type II diabetes and its myriad of associated complications.
Why are we seeing such an increase, especially among our children? What has changed over the last 30 to 40 years that is causing this epidemic?
We all know that with video games, computers, iPads, etc., children can be entertained 24 hours a day. However, this is not enough of a decrease in exercise to cause this massive outbreak of obesity. What else has changed?
In 1977, the United States government came out with guidelines that recommended all Americans decrease their fat intake to less than 30 percent of our calories while increasing our carbohydrate intake. The low-fat industry was born, and the race to produce fat-free foods was launched.
It worked. Americans have consumed less fat over the past 30 years. If fat intake were the cause of obesity, it stands to reason that obesity would have decreased during this time. However, this is not what we have seen. Obesity has sky-rocketed! How could this be?
The simple answer is that dietary fat intake has never been the cause of obesity. Obesity is related to insulin secretion, which causes fat storage. Insulin is secreted by our pancreas when we eat carbohydrates, not fat. We have been brainwashed and wrongfully taught that fat intake is causing our obesity epidemic and leading to diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and strokes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If we are going to combat this obesity epidemic, then we must first properly identify its cause. The true culprit is excess carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates lead to insulin secretion, which leads to weight gain. A low-fat diet typically is very high in carbohydrate content. This is why it is extremely difficult to lose weight while following a low-fat diet.
Where do we go from here? Certainly, children need more exercise. Programs such as Let’s Get Moving and PLAY 60 are great ways to encourage children to exercise, but parents need to be accountable and ensure that their children are getting at least 45 to 60 minutes daily of heart-pounding exercise outside of school.
The real change that needs to take place, however, is a major dietary overhaul. We need to cut back on our carbohydrate intake and eat more protein and vegetables. Protein keeps us satisfied and not hungry all the time. A high-fat diet that is lower in carbohydrate content actually improves our cardiovascular health and lipid profile.
As a society, we should probably be getting around 100-150 grams of total carbohydrates daily, and less than 60 grams per day if we want to lose weight. This would be the same goal for our children. This is a very different approach than what our government has told us we should have, but we have listened and followed their guidelines for the last 30 years, and where has that taken us?
Dr. James R. Bailes Jr. is a pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist with Cabell Pediatrics in Huntington. He specializes in general pediatrics care and treating children with diabetes and weight issues.
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