New Research Shows There's One and Only Way To Combat Obesity

Or maybe not. We probably need more research.


Like death and taxes, obesity research and dietary advice are both unavoidable and to be avoided at all costs.

Tamar Haspel of the Washington Post became fully convinced last month by a new study that says we know highly processed food makes us fat. (She's not alone.) Others argue that it's not just processed food but cheap processed food that makes us fat. Still others are equally convinced now that genes and molecular stuff make us fat. Or maybe it just boils down to our gut bacteria.

Elsewhere, new research suggests empowering America's youth could be the key to stopping obesity in its tracks. But why stop there? Could empowering cats (or perhaps kittens, to keep the analogy going), which new research argues have been gripped by the same obesity epidemic that plagues their human owners, also yield similar results?

Or maybe all this stuff doesn't matter. Maybe all we need is someone like Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas, who takes Chuck's five cents before telling him that the key to reversing his melancholy is simply finding the right label for his fears. Ergo, let's just call obesity a disease so we can regulate it and its causes, effects, and victims.

If your head is mostly spinning, so is mine. That's why I was heartened this week to learn about a University of Iowa study that's revealed what may just be the one and only simple truth behind the cause of obesity: "Obese people eat more food because it simply tastes better, a new study has found." 

This new research suggests a simple fix to the problem of obesity: by law, all food shall now taste worse. After all, if obese people eat more food because it tastes better, mandating that food taste worse will force obese people to eat less food. That will, in turn, make obese people thin.

Once every last obese person is thin, lawmakers can mandate that food may taste good again. No one will overeat because—and here's the key—only obese people eat more food because it tastes better. With no obese people left, thanks to the success of my all-food-shall-now-taste-worse diktat, everyone will eat exactly the right amount of tasty food.

I jest, of course. But just like the premise that "obese people eat more food because it simply tastes better," new research often doubles down on things that sound suspiciously obvious. Take a new study showing obesity is a risk factor for other illnesses. I don't know what (if anything) was lacking with the old research that said largely the same thing.

But new research also sometimes tells us something new, and even can upend old ideas. Take a person's proximity to grocery stores. Living in close proximity to grocery stores was long associated, as a 2006 study argued, with lower obesity rates. But subsequent research in 2014 poured cold water on the earlier claims, showing that one's proximity to a grocer has no impact on dietary habits or obesity.

Now, the latest research is claiming that the opposite of the 2006 study may be true. It's not that living near a grocery store is good, as the 2006 study claimed. And it's not that it doesn't matter, as the 2014 study argued. No, now having supermarkets and grocers near your home is the thing that will make you fat. (For good measure, this same new research also claims commuting past fast-food restaurants makes you fat.)

I've written time and again that taxes and bans and marketing restrictions and assorted other nudges favored by food activists doesn't work when it comes to combating obesity. One reason: no one knows why exactly America (and the world) has become obese. And that may be the one thing all this obesity research makes clear.