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Health experts across the globe have been scrambling to come up with a comprehensive explanation for the obesity epidemic that has grown over the course of the past several decades. While some pursue a moderate, uncontroversial approach to the subject, many believe they have identified one thing in particular around which public conceptions and even national guidelines for a balanced diet have been mistaken: the proper amount of sugar and carbs we should be eating. The latest salvo comes from a group of medical experts in the UK, who charge the National Health Service (NHS) with promoting an excessive amount of carbs as a staple of the British diet.

Carb-Rich Guideline to Blame for Crisis

The group warns of a sugar-induced obesity time bomb and has called for a complete revision of the NHS dietary advice. The guidelines, themselves 35 years old, encourage people to include in their meals potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, or other carbs, as well as low-fat cheese and yogurts. According to Sir Richard, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, “It’s more important to cut down on the calories in carbohydrates rather than the calories in fat, because it has caused a tsunami in diabetes. And we are all obsessed by sugar.” 1 The experts also blamed lawmakers and the lobbying practices of big pharmaceutical companies for exacerbating the crisis, creating a cultural reliance on insulin, opioids, and cholesterol meds instead of helping people to fix their diets.

Beyond Junk Food

The call to action seems to have reached some lawmakers, who sent a letter to prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday with a list of measures needed to fight childhood obesity. The regulations include a ban on buy-one-get-one-free junk food offers and new restrictions on when and how junk food can be advertised—turning, as has been done elsewhere, on cartoon characters and celebrities meant to lure children to cereal boxes, for example.2

While such measures would make for a formidable addition to Britain’s recent crackdown on sugar, lasting change would require moving past a simple condemnation of junk food and identifying the role excess carbs in general play in the obesity crisis. Significantly, the lawmakers’ proposed solutions included better nutrition training for medical staff. Paired with the changes to NHS guidelines recommended by medical experts, such training could dramatically improve the kind of information available to people about making healthy food choices. With its productive new sugar tax as a springboard, Britain is in a position to set a global standard for a competent response to high rates of obesity and responsible regulation on sugar.


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