The link between obesity and food is undeniable, however the nature of this causal effect has often been disputed. The prevailing belief that obesity is caused by overeating has shaped efforts to tame the onslaught of weight gain in the UK. To date, obesity has been driven by a litany of contributing factors, including poverty, sedentary lifestyle, and genetic make-up. Now researchers claim that the most important underlying cause of obesity is the consumption of processed foods, as opposed to overeating.
A new study has claimed that overeating is not the root cause of obesity, arguing that processed food is a stronger determinant.
Researchers of the study, argue that the obesity epidemic is fuelled by a modern dietary pattern characterised by excessive consumption of foods with high glycemic load.
Processed foods in particular, were deemed the most prominent influential factor.
Lead author Doctor David Ludwig, endocrinologist at Boston Children’s hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, said that the energy balance model doesn’t explain the biological causes of weight gain.
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He explained: “During a growth spurt, for instance, adolescents may increase food intake by 1,000 calories a day.
“But does their overeating cause the growth spurt, or does the growth spurt cause the adolescent to get hungry and overeat?”
“Modern dietary patterns are characterised by excessive consumption of foods with a high glycemic load: in particular, processed, rapidly digestible carbohydrates.
“These foods cause hormonal responses that fundamentally change our metabolism, driving fat storage, weight gain and obesity.
Researchers explained that highly processed foods can trigger an increase in insulin secretion, which in turn suppressed glucagon secretion.
Once glucagon levels are low, fat cells begin to store more calories, depriving muscles and other active tissues of the calories they need for fuel.
This can boost feelings of hunger, causing the metabolism to shut in a bid to save energy.
Researchers have pointed out that, to an extent, all the food we eat is processed.
Ultra-processed foods however, which have been chemically augmented, are also widespread in the 21st century.
In fact, it has been claimed ultra-processed foods may constitute as much as 56.8 percent of calories in our diet.
Doctor Ludwig explained: “When we eat highly processed carbohydrates, the body increases insulin secretion and suppresses glucagon secretion.
“This, in turn, signals fat cells to store more calories, leaving fewer calories available to fuel muscles and other metabolically active tissues.
“The brain perceives that the body isn’t getting enough energy, which, in turn, leads to feelings of hunger.
“In addition, metabolism may slow down in the body’s attempt to conserve fuel. Thus, we tend to remain hungry, even as we continue to gain excess fat.”
The findings come soon after an NHS study warned that weight gain during the pandemic put more people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers highlighted that individuals asking for weight loss help were on average 2.27 kilograms heavier than those starting the programme during the previous three years.
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