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"Ever Seen a Fat Fox? Human Obesity Explored" Review

This book and review are also featured in the post: Nutrition Summer Reading. For the other books I'm (attempting) to read this summer and for other folks' thoughts, pop over to the post to see!

I have just completed reading "Ever Seen a Fat Fox?" and I have to say I was extremely impressed. This is NOT a light read- it contains an extensive lit review and a slightly more academic tone that is occasionally punctuated with Professor Mike Gibney's irreverent (and sometimes not-so-PC) sense of humor.

Every Seen a Fat Fox Human Obesity Explored Diet Book Review

These days, we are inundated with books that emphasize how obesity has been caused by the food industry and food adverts- and while that is definitely part of the problem, we rarely hear any other explanations! "Ever Seen a Fat Fox?" starts right off the bat, dropping some truths we rarely hear:

1. Obesity was not invented in the 20th century and the "obesity epidemic" didn't just pop into existence in the 80's. Obesity has been around for as long as humans AND there have been (unsuccessful) attempts to prevent and cure it since the dawn of time (OK maybe not that far back, but you get the point).

2. Ditto "processed food." We've been eating it since humans learned to harness fire. Sure, there's more available now, but it isn't the PROCESSING itself that's the problem.

3. The history of the BMI and optimal BMI measurements - did you know the concept of "ideal weights" originally came from life insurance companies' actuarial tables? I did not!

Delving into the current science connecting intake and obesity, Gibney calls into question a lot of the facts that we take for granted- like, does reducing sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) in the diet REALLY cause a decrease in weight? (Maybe, but it certainly can't be the only intervention). Should we REALLY ask people who are overweight to lose weight? (Maybe- but only if there are risks that will only be reduced by weight loss. Otherwise, likelihood of success is so low that encouraging other healthy lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy eating are better bets than weight reduction). In fact, many of the studies showing lifestyle interventions impacting weight are selective in showing only the subgroups or measures that were "successful," while ignoring the total impact of the intervention, which was usually minimal.

Mike Gibney is a professor in Ireland, so a lot of his statistics on food intake data come from the Irish population, which is similar to US, but seems to eat a greater percentage of meals at home compared to Americans. However, the points Gibney makes are relevant to any developed nation (or developing nation) with an obesity problem.

This book is a refreshing change of pace because it is so incredibly level headed. Are fast food and SSBs good for you? No, and Gibney agrees. But are we placing too much blame at the hands at the level of the food creation PROCESS and not enough on total AVAILABILITY? Perhaps.

The best way to explain Gibney's POV in the book is to let him do it. Here, he outlines common perceptions surrounding the obesity epidemic and adds his own rebuttal:

"The rising levels of obesity are associated, and I stress associated, with an abundance of widely advertised cheap food and beverages, mainly industrially processed and high in sugar, fat and salt... Large companies get rich on poor quality, even addictive foods and are in denial of any responsibility. Until their power is curbed with taxes, until cheap food product promotion and availability is restricted and until powerful and shocking images are displayed to the obese, the obesity epidemic will continue to grow, particularly among the most vulnerable such as all children and the socially disadvantaged.

"So, do I agree with the above? If the answer were unequivocally 'yes' then, clearly, I wouldn't have written this book. So let's ask the converse question: 'Do I comprehensively deny the general truth of this narrative?' The answer to that is also 'no'." [Emphasis mine]

Did you breathe a sigh of relief? Perhaps it will affect the marketability of the book, but as a nutrition person (wonk) - it was amazing to read a book that tackled the issue of obesity and its health risks and acknowledged that the causes and solutions are complex.

Did I agree with all of Mike Gibney's points? Not at all- for instance, he talks about using The Step Diet for maintaining calorie balance. Now, I have not read this book but a) Just the description of how you converted daily calories into steps and then back again sounded insanely confusing and b) While calorie balance is essential, I still feel wary of quantifying foods as "units of physical activity" as if food is ONLY energy and nothing else. There were a number of other points where I wasn't in 100% agreement. But whether I agreed or not, I felt his all points were well made.

My nitpick? I wasn't convinced that foxes- given a surplus of food by good luck, let's say - wouldn't get fat in the wild. It was implied that foxes would only eat what they needed and not more, but there wasn't really any evidence provided to show this was true. Perhaps all people in Ireland have a strong baseline knowledge of fox behavior?

Anyway, the fox example was just meant to give a counterpoint to the way humans eat- an understanding of fox physiology wasn't essential to the purpose of the book, so I did get over it, but the fact that it was the title of the book made me feel like there should be some actual animal behavior science within.

Bonus points:

- It included references to the old Judy Garland musical "Harvey Girls" - which was one of my favorite movies growing up and features a YOUNG ANGELA LANDSBURY as the vampy showgirl. (Warning, this is not, like, a super good movie? But is also a great movie. Know what I mean?)

- Reference to Cool Hand Luke eating 50 eggs

- Dolly Parton is quoted

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review; all opinions are my own. If you'd like me to review your book feel free to email contact@thenuritionwonk.com. Keep in mind I will be BRUTALLY HONEST so don't send me a juice cleanse, thanks.

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