New book simplifies the science behind the ‘obesity epidemic’

Ever wondered if calorie counting and all those hours in the gym will really pay off?

Is the ‘ideal’ female body so often championed in the media really attainable through diet and exercise?

This question is never far from the pages of our newspapers or the screens of our televisions.

Now a new book by a leading group of scientists, psychologists and sociologists will attempt to bring clarity to a subject which is as often discussed, and arguably misunderstood, as the weather.

Fat Matters, edited by Dr Alexandra Johnstone, of the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, and Ms Gina Tsichlia, of the Robert Gordon University, attempts to simplify the science behind our obesity epidemic. 

The book will get its first public outing at Word – the University of Aberdeen Writers Festival on May 16.

Contributors show the diversity of approaches to the phenomenon of obesity and attempt to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding excess weight.

Fat Mattersbegins with a look at the connections between the media, body-image perceptions and obesity, and the way in which our view has shifted over time, authored by Dr Sarah Pedersen, a Reader in Communications and Media at the Robert Gordon University, who will attend the Word festival.

It also asks the question Do Diets Work? Dr Johnstone addresses some of the most common myths around weight loss including ‘I only have to look at a cream cake to gain weight’, ‘I’m not fat, I have big bones’, and ‘It’s all in my genes’.

The Senior Scientist within the Obesity and Metabolic Health Division at the Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen, uses science to expose common misconceptions around dieting.

She said: “With the increased prevalence of obesity has come a frantic search for the ultimate treatment option. Obesity and excessive weight gain does not happen overnight and therefore the solution is not a ‘quick fix’.

“Weight loss can be achieved under the right conditions however there are a lot of misconceptions or myths associated with obesity and weight loss. 

“There are also many environmental, biological and psychological influences on what and why we eat so while losing weight in theory is simple, in practice this can be difficult to achieve and maintain over a prolonged period of time.

“Consumers may find it helpful to read about obesity and weight loss from a scientific, psychological and physiological view to understand how to lose weight and keep it off in the longer term.”

Fat Mattersalso addresses the causes of obesity, from both a medical and social perspective, the impact of our activity levels and the issues raised by the current treatment strategy within the NHS.

It looks forward to the role technology could play in tackling the ‘obesity epidemic’ and raises the prospect that in the future we might employ GPS systems to track our exact energy expenditure and even get reminders for ‘having a snack’ if our ‘system’ runs out of energy.

The book also features a patient’s perspective with a personal tale of the battle against the cycle of weight loss and gain.

Dr Johnstone added: “Obesity is a complex subject and there is no one simple answer to tackling the problem but with 50 per cent of the Scottish population collectively overweight and obese, there is a desperate need to provide scientifically-proven advice on how to lose weight.

“Many dieters will focus on improvements in body image to reinforce their dieting regime so it is important that this is also properly understood.

“Fat Matters provides a public friendly source of information on current thoughts on obesity and weight loss from experts across the field and we hope it will lead to a greater understanding of the current state of obesity prevention, treatment, impact on society and health.

A panel of the book’s contributors will engage in an interactive discussion on the issues raised in the book for a special event at the Word Festival. The event will be chaired by Professor Brian Ratcliffe, Professor of Nutrition at the Robert Gordon University and will also feature contributions from Dr Graham Finlayson, a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Leeds.

It will take place in the Festival Marquee, King’s College, and tickets are £5 (£3 concessions) and can be booked online at or by calling Aberdeen Box Office on 01224 641122.