Surprise: people don’t eat what they’re told!

I’ll be brief. There is a now-familiar narrative which blames the current obesity crisis on the introduction of dietary guidelines in the 1980s, and specifically with the “liphobia” (fear of fat) introduced by Ancel Keys in the 1970s. The story goes thus: government is led to believe that fat is the root of all fire and brimstone disease, so they issue guidelines telling everyone to eat low- or no-fat foods. Everyone complies, and unknowingly stuffs themselves with sugar, with which all foods are secretly laced, because the government also subsidises the sugar industry.

Three or so decades later, an epidemic of obesity and diabetic children, all because of the sugar! (Or, as the Daily Mail calls it ‘The new tobacco. A ticking time-bomb. The hidden menace‘).

Solution: Give up sugar! Eat fat! Be a cave person! Etc.

There is just one little flaw in that story, and that is the assumption that a majority of people actually follow(ed) recommended dietary guidelines.

New research from the USDA confirms this little problem, highlighting that

Findings reveal that consumer spending came close to matching USDA food plan recommendations for only 1 of the 23 food categories examined–potatoes. The food plan recommends 2.1 percent of a family’s food expenditures be spent on potatoes, and the Homescan panelists were found to have spent 2.0 percent. Panelists underspent on all categories of vegetables except potatoes. For example, they spent only 0.5 percent of their food budgets on dark green vegetables, while the food plan recommended 7 percent. Panelists also underspent on whole grains, whole fruit, lower fat dairy, nuts, poultry, and fish.

Here it is in handy table form:



The take-home of this is of course not that people are not eating too much sugar, nor that cutting out carbs will not lead to weight loss (though this upcoming documentary on sugar vs. fat for weight-loss sounds like it could upset the cave people wagon).

The take-home is rather more simple. Simple conspiracy theories are generally always bullshit.

3 Replies to “Surprise: people don’t eat what they’re told!”

  1. EXACTLY- Great piece. This is exactly why I can’t believe the following editorial in BJSM was ever published … in which we read statements like this “Society is eating ‘low fat’ but getting fatter” where is the evidence for this I hear you ask (like me)- there is NONE and they referenced things like Taubes’ book or a web piece by Noakes (so not evidence) to (try) and back this up!?!- it looks like the evidence you provide here goes directly against this assertion (no surprise there).

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