Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat: Good and Bad Root Cause Problem Solving


Talk about lean: In some ways perhaps the biggest performance improvement project at an individual and societal level is obesity. But like any classic process improvement effort, this issue demands rigorous root cause problem solving and a mindset that does not presuppose causes or accept as a given “conventional wisdom.”

To that end I continually point colleagues to one of the best books on the subject of obesity – Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. In it he presents a cogent summary of the long history of public policy decisions and, most importantly, some of the context behind these momentous decisions and the politics underlying what aspects of the research and scientific findings were emphasized while others were relegated to purgatory.

For decades we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates better, and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more. Yet despite this advice, we have seen unprecedented epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Taubes argues that the problem lies in refined carbohydrates, like white flour, easily digested starches, and sugars, and that the key to good health is the kind of calories we take in, not the number. In this groundbreaking book, award-winning science writer Gary Taubes shows us that almost everything we believe about the nature of a healthy diet is wrong (Random House website).

It is a story of distorted science meeting bad (but well-intended) public policy meeting an ignorant public (ignorant of the full-spectrum of data and of the means to understand the language of biochemistry, cellular functions, statistics and population data), running into a press unable to cover the story or unable to grasp the science and to translate it with fidelity to their readership.

In this writer’ opinion, we have obesity for reasons that are quite clear and understandable as are the countermeasures of the actual root causes. As an example of what “good looks like” in converting science and public policy into personal consequences, there are few books better than this one.

For performance improvement professionals, Taubes’ approach is particularly powerful because he explores the issue at the fundamental level of operating mechanisms, such as whether obesity is a manifestation of an energy imbalance problem (too many calories in, not enough calories out) or a hormonal imbalance issue. At its heart is what are the causes and what are the effects.

There are many interviews of Taubes; here is one on YouTube: http://youtu.be/A8fTGsTt-cU

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