Vail Daily column: What are the factors in the war on obesity? |

Vail Daily column: What are the factors in the war on obesity?

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

What’s really going on as we face the war on obesity, heart disease, cancer and other diseases that are apparently related to lifestyle choices? Colin Campbell, author of the well-received China Study and other highly credentialed doctors such as Joel Fuhrman argue that a high consumption of animal based products such as butter, milk, beef and poultry increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney problems and autoimmune disorders.

Opponents such as Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, argue that “the fundamental logic underlying Campbell’s hypothesis (that low animal protein diets improve human health) is untenable and inconsistent with the evolution of our own species,” and that “a large body of experimental evidence now demonstrates a higher intake of lean animal protein reduces the risk for gout, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity, insulin resistance and osteoporosis while not impairing kidney function.”

Well, first of all I am not associated with PETA, Monsanto or the National Association of Meat Eaters, nor do I have any agenda other than judiciously reading any and all literature to better make decisions for the health of my family and the paying customers who seek my services for well-being.

As a former low-fat, high carbohydrate eating obese child, I am more conscious about my lifestyle choices than the average bloke. For the record, I have been profoundly wrong before in my assertions about fitness beliefs and other health related contentions. I’m not an expert on nutrition. I have experimented with several exercise and diet strategies over the years. I practice and preach what makes sense based on empirical observation and scientific scrutiny. Well, any scientific scrutiny that my small brain can comprehend.

Is saturated fat from animal based products the enemy? Ancel Keys was a prestigious scientist that in the 1950s who performed the Seven Countries Study conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and Europe. Keys hypothesized that diet played an extremely large role in heart disease. Keys found an overwhelming link between animal product consumption, cholesterol and heart disease. Keys’ findings are arguably the largest primer that put the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet on the map in the 1980s. Interestingly enough, after the American Heart Association advised the public to eat less saturated fat and switch to vegetable oils for heart health in the early 1960s, Americans followed the guidelines. These oils now represent roughly 10 percent of our current diet, up from 0 percent in 1900. Furthermore, we are eating roughly 25 percent more carbohydrates since the 1960s. Meanwhile, saturated fat intake has dropped 11 percent. But where are we today with obesity and heart disease, for example?

By 2000, 30 percent of Americans were obese! By 2006, not a single state reported obesity prevalence at less than 10 percent, and in 23 states, obesity prevalence was over 25 percent. An estimated one out of every three children is overweight.


But see what I did there? I threw out some information based on one very good study on cholesterol and its association with heart disease. Then I deduced that somehow the findings and resultant dietary changes that took place during the 1960s were causative for today’s obesity epidemic. Not to mention we haven’t gotten too far with reducing heart disease either. But correlation doesn’t equate to causation. Increased carbohydrate consumption, and reduced saturated fat isn’t any more suspect than claiming a plant-based diet alone is responsible for optimal health and longevity. Just as proponents of a high fat diet today like to point the finger and criticize the China Study, others like to believe that Ancel Keys was misguided and his fat-phobic findings somehow caused us to eat more carbohydrates that are really the silent killers responsible. But is Coca-Cola really to blame, folks? I said it in my last column: There are too many variables in this thing called the real world outside of observational studies.

For example, the United States is the powerhouse of economy and technological advancement. We arguably have the best medical diagnostic tools in the world. When someone dies because of a disease process such as heart disease, we can assuredly rule out all other potential causes. Well, a lot of countries that might not eat a Western diet loaded with animal products might be terrible at classifying heart disease deaths, for example. This contributes to underestimating deaths from specific lifestyle diseases in “healthy plant-based eating countries” that creates a false sense of health and longevity based on diet because of a lack of medical attention to detail — especially less-developed nations with very poor medical care. This is just one relatively pertinent example on how there are often other confounding variables that aren’t always accounted for. Sometimes people on “The Biggest Loser” have thyroid dysfunctions, while others are addicted to sugar as they use it to cope with the loss of a loved one. But to suggest that pastries, ribeyes, cauliflower, bacon, laziness, beer or being picked on in gym class are correlating, and ultimately causative factors for poor health, is misleading.

So what’s really going on as we face the war on obesity, heart disease, cancer and other diseases that are apparently related to lifestyle choices such as diet? The heck if I know.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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