Experts on BBC radio insist insulin response is key to understanding obesity

Jack Woodfield
Wed, 15 May 2019
Experts on BBC radio insist insulin response is key to understanding obesity
Our approach to eating and the way insulin works in the body have been addressed on BBC Radio 4.

In a series of nutritional reports set to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, journalist Becky Milligan spoke to several key people about the current worldwide obesity epidemic.

From her own research, Ms Milligan said she had found all the different dietary messages and advice "mind-boggling" as she investigated why obesity rates have risen in the UK across the last several decades.

Professor Roy Taylor, Professor of Medicine and Metabolism at the University of Newcastle, has done a lot of research into type 2 diabetes and firmly believes it is possible to put the condition into remission.

He told Ms Milligan that he thought it was "appalling" that obesity rates are continuing to rise, particularly in young people.

Calorie counting

Meanwhile, Dr Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, blamed calorie counting, which we had previously been told was imperative to weight loss.

Dr Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California in San Francisco, said: "Calories being calories are the gravy train of the food industry, because if there were specific calories that caused you to gain weight, or there were specific calories that caused chronic metabolic disease such as type 2 diabetes, then the public would shy away from those wouldn’t they? Well, that is processed food."

He gave the example of a study from a few years back, that compared sugary sodas, to diet sodas, milk and water. Those in both the soda groups put on weight, even though the diet version products were completely calorie free.

Dr Lustig said the obesity issue is "nothing to do with calories" and instead said the public should be turning their attentions to the hormone insulin and how it works.

Obesity and insulin

Another expert, Dr Jason Fung, a world-leading expert on intermittent fasting and low carb, especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes, agreed that controlling obesity was all about understanding how the hormone works.

He said: "Insulin basically tells the body to store fat and it also turns off fat burning, so if your body is storing fat, you don’t want it to burn fat.

"If insulin falls, then that's a signal to burn fat, so if insulin is high you store fat, if it’s low you burn fat. Certain foods stimulate insulin much more than other foods. So refined carbohydrates are probably the biggest stimulus to insulin."

Later on in the BBC radio programme, Dr Alison Tedstone, National Director with responsibility of diet, nutrition and obesity in the Health and Wellbeing Directorate of Public Health England (PHE), was invited to discuss whether current dietary guidelines will be changed, based on what was said during the nutrition report.

She said that any decisions are "governed by the evidence" and they mainly take into account "robust" and "longer-term studies".

At the moment PHE recommends people should follow its Eatwell Guide, which divides foods and drink into five main groups. It is suggested a variety of different foods from each of the groups should be consumed on a daily basis to help people get a wide range of nutrients that the body needs to stay healthy and work properly.

However, Dr Tedstone did concede that the government "recognises that it's not working" which is why the Childhood Obesity Strategy and the sugar tax on drinks have been introduced.

She concluded: "We need to go beyond information and education. We need to think of the structural drivers of diet."

For more information on diet, obesity and the role of insulin visit Diabetes Digital Media's award-winning Low Carb Program.
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