Author takes on weighty issue at Touro University event

By Sarah Rohrs/Times-Herald staff writer/
Posted:   04/26/2013 01:04:13 AM PST

What would happen if people shed conventional wisdom about obesity? They would likely lose a lot of weight, says science and health journalist Gary Taubes, author of the eye-opening book "Why We Get Fat." 

Keynote speaker at Touro University's Research Day, Taubes of Berkeley on Wednesday said long-held theories about obesity are not founded in good science, and cause more harm than good. 

Touro's Research Day also included doctoral students giving short talks about research projects into a range of topics, including a cancer vaccine, and effects of sugar in fatty liver diseases. Meanwhile, others displayed research projects on posters at a reception in Farragut Inn. 

Health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease, associated with obesity are key issues Touro University is addressing with research and community-based projects, university Research Director Alejandro Gugliucci said. 

This year's Research Day represented a 25 percent increase in the number of presentations, Gugliucci said. "We're doing some very important research here," he added. 

Part of that research included Taubes' talk. 

He said that with 43 percent of the adult population considered overweight and a recent five-fold increase in diabetes, it's critical that science takes a new approach. 

Long-held beliefs that weight gain is due to taking in more calories than are expended, or that people will lose weight if they eat less and exercise more lacks scientific evidence and should be challenged vigorously, Taubes said. 

"Nothing is more damaging or misguided than the calorie in-calorie out" theory, he said. 

This conventional wisdom, he said, does nothing to explain why some poor people who do not have enough to eat and lead physically active lives working in the fields or factories still get obese. 

Nor does it explain why some people remain thin while others gain even while coming from the same families and leading similar lifestyles, he said. 

Over the decades, health officials have clung to this belief, though various researchers have pointed out eating less and exercising more have had marginal impacts on weight loss, Taubes said. 

The alternative hypothesis is that obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not energy imbalance, or over-eating or sedentary behavior, he said. 

And what is making Americans so fat and sick is a diet with a heavy preponderance of carbohydrates, substances which lead to insulin production and then further fat accumulation, he said. 

Food culprits are breads, cereals, refined grains, potatoes, sweets, fructose and glucose, he said. Instead, people should eat a diet rich in protein (animal or vegetable), plus lots of vegetables, eggs, cheese and certain fruits and fats. 

Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at or (707) 553-6832. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVTH. 

VTH Research Day

First-year Touro University medical student Melanie Kappadakunnel describes a research project she was involved in recently, studying the effects of mother/fetal exposure to lead and its possible link to adolescent ADHD. This was part of a number of projects being showcased in Farragut Inn at the school's annual Research Day. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)