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We are what we eat

Social pressures conflict with biological evolution when it comes to food

Imagine a polar bear in the desert.

It lumbers around doing exactly what it does in the arctic, conserving heat, even though it now lives in a dry arid climate.

It’s not hard to figure out the polar bear probably isn’t very happy or healthy.

Well, Dr. David Katz believes humans in affluent societies are suffering the same fate as a polar bear in the Sahara.

An associate clinical professor of public health and medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, Katz believes humans, calorie conservers, are facing an epidemic of obesity as we continue to hoard calories even though food is now plentiful.

"If you are a polar bear and you have little heat, the heat you conserve is good," said Katz.

"But if you have a lot of heat, the heat you conserve is a problem.

"We are designed to conserve calories in exactly the same way. If you hang on to calories in a world where there aren’t too many it is a good thing. But if you hang on to them in a world where they are falling from the trees… it’s not so good and that is exactly the problem."

Katz has just authored a new book, The Way to Eat, due out in December, which he hopes will help people chart a course through the obstacles we now face as we learn to live in an environment our species was not designed for.

In the US eight out of 10 people are overweight. While Canada isn’t quite as bad there are serious questions being raised about how to address the issue.

Statistics Canada estimates that about 46 per cent of Canadians are overweight and about 15 per cent are obese. And 80 per cent of Canadians don’t exercise enough to be healthy.

The combination of fatty foods and inactivity is said to add billions to the health care tab annually and kill an estimated 21,000 Canadians prematurely each year.

It’s not like most people want to be fat and unfit. We spend about $60 million a year in North America fighting fat.

But with only about a quarter of people who lose weight able to maintain the weight loss it is becoming apparent that there is more at work here than just will power.

Everybody knows being overweight is bad for you, so if it was just a question of knowing the facts and "putting your mind" to dropping a few pounds the media wouldn’t report on the issue incessantly.

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