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What if everything we think we know about the science of obesity is wrong?

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It's a fact: More people are obese now than ever before. What is up for discussion however, is why.

The prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4% from 1999-2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the rate of severe obesity went up from 4.7% to 9.2% in the same period of time.

According to a recently published review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, what we think we know about what causes obesity — and why so little progress has been made in the field — is wrong and has been for years.

Its authors assert that the science shows obesity is not attributable to "an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended,” as the World Health Organization describes, but is instead a "hormonal or constitutional disorder" that impairs the regulation of fat storage and metabolism.

How is the traditionally accepted paradigm of obesity "fatally flawed," as the review's authors allege? What is this conclusion, which contradicts the traditional science of obesity, based on? What evidence supports their argument?

Obesity-related health conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable and premature death.

If the widely accepted obesity paradigm is indeed flawed, will researchers and other experts in the field adapt their efforts? How could doing so help advance the prevention and treatment of obesity and related health conditions?

Childhood obesity rates continue to climb in Texas and the U.S.

New data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that 1 in 6 young people ages 10-17 nationwide and more than 1 in 5 Texas youths are obese, with sharp disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The report cites factors for worsening childhood obesity that include structural racism, discriminatory practices affecting the food system, access to healthcare, affordable housing, and critical family supports like childcare.

The pandemic has also been linked to increasing childhood obesity rates, both in Texas and nationally, and is connected to an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. According to RWJF, childhood obesity costs an estimated $14 billion annually in direct health expenses.

What policy changes could be implemented to prevent the onset of childhood obesity and related health consequences?

Why are kids of color and those growing up furthest from economic opportunity at greatest risk?


  • Gary Taubes (12-12:30), investigative science and health journalist, author of The Case Against Sugar, Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories; co-founder and board chair of the non-profit Nutrition Science Initiative
  • Jamie Bussel (12:30-1), senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, October 13.

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