Is it calories in vs. calories out? Historical examples that dissprove this


At The The Academy (Macclesfield Group Personal Training weight loss gym) Personal Training Studio here in Buxton, Derbyshire we still hear on a daily basis that excess body fat storage is down to calories in vs. calories out. New clients who are looking to lose weight invariably come us believing that people store excess body fat because they consume more calories then they burn off. Phrases such as “you can’t create or destroy energy” and “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” have us banging our head against the wall on a daily basis. Especially seeing as such miss-information is often pedalled by the local doctor, gym, health club, fitness class, Slimming World, Weight Watchers, etc.


For those of you that believe this, and that you achieve lasting weight loss by eating less and burning more calories (usually through doing more exercise), please read the following excerpt from the excellent book “Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It” (by Gary Taubes), which covers numerous examples in history of several underfed populations with high body fat levels. Ie: Thousands and thousands of people who were DEFINITELY consuming less calories then the World Health Organisation claim we need. If the calorie model were to be accurate, these people would not be overweight.


In the majority of cases, people store excess body fat for three main reasons: Stress, Toxins and Malnutrition (meaning poor nutrition, not to be confused with subnutrition – not enough food). If you would like to find out more about this, how we can use the Bio Signature Modulation assessment (click here for more info) to determine what you need to do to reduce body fat levels and to arrange your complimentary consultation / trial session, then please email us at


1951: Naples, Italy

Ancel Keys, the University of Minnesota nutritionist almost singularly responsible for convincing us that the fat we eat and the cholesterol in our blood are causes of heart disease, visits Naples to study the diet and health of the Neapolitans.“There is no mistaking the general picture”—he later writes—“a little lean meat once or twice a week was the rule, butter was almost unknown, milk was never drunk except in coffee or for infants, ‘colazione’ [breakfast] on the job often meant half a loaf of bread crammed with baked lettuce or spinach. Pasta was eaten every day, usually also with bread (no spreads) and a fourth of the calories were provided by olive oil and wine. There was no evidence of nutritional deficiency but the working-class women were fat .”What Keys didn’t say was that most people in Naples and in fact all of southern Italy were exceedingly poor at the time. The Neapolitans had been devastated by the Second World War, so much so that a tragic sight during the latter years of the war was lines of mothers and housewives prostituting themselves to Allied soldiers to get money to feed their families. A post war parliamentary inquiry portrayed the region as essentially a third-world nation. There was little meat to be had, which was why little meat was consumed, and malnutrition was common. Only by the late 1950s, long after Keys’s visit, did reconstruction efforts begin to show any significant progress. One other fact worth noting is how closely Keys’s description of the Neapolitan diet matches the Mediterranean diet that is all the rage these days, even down to the copious olive oil and the red wine, or the grandmotherly diets that Michael Pollan recommends in In Defense of Food:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Certainly these people were eating not too much. A 1951 survey ranked Italy and Greece as having less food available per capita than any other countries in Europe—twenty-four hundred calories daily, compared with thirty-eight hundred calories available per capita in the United States at that time. And yet “the working-class women were fat.” Not the rich women but the ones who had to work hard for a living.


1954: The Pima Again

Bureau of Indian Affairs researchers weigh and measure the Pima children and report that more than half, boys and girls both, are obese by age eleven. Living conditions on the Gila River Reservation: “Widespread poverty.”


1959: Charleston, South Carolina

Among African Americans, 18 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women are obese. Cash incomes for the heads of families range from $9 to$53 per week, or the equivalent of about $65 to $390 per week today.


1960: Durban, South Africa

Among Zulu, 40 percent of the adult women are obese. Women in their forties average 175 pounds. The women, on average, are twenty pounds heavier and four inches shorter than the men, but this does not mean they are better fed—excessive adiposity, the researchers report, is often accompanied by numerous signs of malnutrition.


1961: Nauru, the South Pacific

A local physician describes the situation bluntly: “By European standards, everyone past puberty is grossly overweight.”


1961–63: Trinidad, West Indies

A team of nutritionists from the United States reports that malnutrition is a serious medical problem on the island, but so is obesity. Nearly a third of the women older than twenty-five are obese. The average caloric intake among these women is estimated at fewer than two thousand calories a day – less than the minimum

recommended at the time by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as necessary for a healthy diet.


1963: Chile

Obesity is described as “the main nutritional problem of Chilean adults.” Twenty-two percent of military personnel and 32 percent of white-collar workers are obese. Among factory workers, 35 percent of males and 39 percent of females are obese. These factory workers are the most interesting, because their jobs quite likely involve significant physical labor.


1964–65: Johannesburg, South Africa

Researchers from the South African Institute for Medical Research study urban Bantu “pensioners” older than sixty—“the most indigent of elderly Bantu,” which means the poorest members of an exceedingly poor population. The women in this population average 165 pounds. Thirty percent of them are “severely overweight.” The average weight of “poor white” women is also reported to be 165 pounds.


1965: North Carolina

Twenty-nine percent of adult Cherokee on the Qualla Reservation are obese.


1969: Ghana

Twenty-five percent of the women and 7 percent of the men attending medical outpatient clinics in Accra are obese, including half of all women in their forties. “It may be reasonably concluded that severe obesity is common in women aged 30 to 60,” writes an associate professor at the University of Ghana Medical School, and it is “fairly common knowledge that many market women in the coastal towns of West Africa are fat.”

1970: Lagos, Nigeria

Five percent of the men are obese, as are nearly 30 percent of the women. Of women between fifty-five and sixty-five, 40 percent are very obese.


1971: Rarotonga, the South Pacific

Forty percent of the adult women are obese; 25 percent are “grossly obese.”


1974: Kingston, Jamaica

Rolf Richards, a British-trained physician running a diabetes clinic at the University of the West Indies, reports that 10 percent of the adult men in Kingston and two-thirds of the women are obese.


1974: Chile (again)

A nutritionist from the Catholic University in Santiago reports on a study of thirty-three hundred factory workers, most engaged in heavy labor. “Only” 11percent of the men and 9 percent of the women are “severely undernourished”; “only” 14 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women are “severely overweight.” Of those forty-five and older, nearly 40 percent of the men and 50 percent of the women are obese. He also reports on studies in Chile from the 1960s, noting that “the lowest incidence [of obesity] exists among farm workers. Office workers show the most obesity, but it is also

common among slum dwellers.”


1978: Oklahoma

Kelly West, the leading diabetes epidemiologist of the era, reports of the local Native American tribes that “men are very fat, women are even fatter.”


1981–83: Starr County, Texas

On the Mexican border, two hundred miles south of San Antonio, William Mueller and colleagues from the University of Texas weigh and measure more than eleven hundred local Mexican-American residents. Forty percent of the men in their thirties are obese, although most of them are “employed in agricultural labor and/or work in the oil fields in the country.” More than half the women in their fifties are obese. As for the living conditions, Mueller later describes them as “very simple.… There was one restaurant [in all of Starr County], a Mexican restaurant, and there was nothing else.”

About The Author

Jon Hall

When not helping people to transform their lives and bodies, Jon can usually be found either playing with his kids or taxi-ing them around. If you'd like to find out more about what we do at The Academy then enter your details in the box to the right or bottom of this page or at - this is the same way every single one of the hundreds who've described this as "one of the best decisions I've ever made" took their first step.