The reporting of this story
on the BBC Radio 4 1pm news today (no transcript available) is worse than the webpage itself. The obesity experts (from the Obesity Forum) are explicitly saying 'we don't care what the science says' - they're not saying 'we're not sure if the study was conducted properly and we need some more evidence to be certain', but are openly, (and indeed without adequate challenge from the journalists), wanting to willfully ignore recommendations that are coming from scientists, because of the 'obesity epidemic'.
It's 2009, research looking again at recommended calorie intake that was done in 1991 is now 18 years old, so it probably is time to look at it again with the benefit of new developments/research techniques/knowledge gained in the past 18 years. The report is from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition
- that's a link to a summary of the findings. The report
It's entirely possible to consider, on the balance of the evidence, that obesity is bad and wrong and evil (or simply to consider as many do that being a 'normal' weight is healthy and being an 'abnormal' weight is unhealthy) and still be opposed to the mangaling of science like this - namely, wanting to suppress and ignore the research stating that the recommended calorie intake should be increased by 16% from the 1991 recommendations.
I'm quite surprised at the lack of critical challenge by the BBC journalists - I expect better of Radio 4, because the point being made is so clearly wrong. I'm also quite pleased at the huge hole the Obesity Forum is digging for itself. It's (in this instance, leaving aside generalised fatphobia) leaving itself so open for attack, it should be child's play to shoot it down. Though that said, the SACN summary findings are clearly written against a background of DangerDangerObesity, so they perhaps aren't all that confident in their own recommendations cf: Revised reference values should not be interpreted to mean that individuals or groups should increase their energy intake. Energy expenditure needs to increase in relation to energy intake from food to reduce the number of overweight and obese people.
I do actually agree with the point that a change in the reference values shouldn't lead to people concluding they automatically now require an extra slice of bread or portion of chips. On the other hand, one has to wonder at the culture where grown ups would rather trust a government recommendation about how many calories they need to consume rather than their own body's signals of hunger. And their second sentence is a linguistic nightmare. We go from the individual to the national without proper thought. Even if it is accepted that reducing the number of overweight and obese people is a good public policy goal, it makes no sense to jump from recommending increased exercise in relation to food intake - which is an individual recommendation to the effect this would have on the total numbers of people classed as overweight and obese without linking the two things together and considering the other complex social factors involved. SACN fully endorses current recommendations on physical activity that adults should participate in at least 30 minutes of activity of moderate intensity on five or more days a week, while children and young people should aim for 60 minutes every day.
And the expertise of SACN to endorse that recommendation comes from where? It's an advisory committee on nutrition, not an advisory committee with expertise in appropriate exercise levels. It's not recommendation different reference values for people who have particular high energy expenditure eg. Olympic swimmers, coal miners, breast feeding mothers, people recovering from surgery etc. It's toeing the party line, despite its evident lack of expert knowledge to make such an endorsement.