People who attend my workshops have heard me rant that educating people about how to be healthier through exercise and what to eat is, largely, a waste of time. It’s not just my idea Professor Philip James, as the Chair of the International Obesity Task Force said:
???It’s been shown in a whole series of systematic analyses that telling people they should exercise more and eat less and this type of health education ??? the evidence ??? systematically refuted by independent scientists ??? shows it???s a pretty useless way of approaching the problem.???
But we have been brought up in a world that values education so much that it is hard to let go of this idea. Why? In simple terms it’s because education – telling people what they should know/think/do is easy (and makes us feel oh so clever and … educated!) – life gets a whole lot more complex the moment we have to look at why people don’t do what they know they should. Few people are trained in the psychology of this complexity.
So it was with interest that I read this paper by Kumanyika et al called “Maintenance of dietary behavior change” (Health Psychology 2000). On reviewing this area in detail they conclude that:
“Overall, these data give the impression that qualitative dietary changes, once learned, are more likely to be maintained than the reduced calorie intake that might be needed to maintain a lower weight. However, the level of difficulty involved [e.g. working out which processed foods are high in salt] in making such changes, may deter individuals who are not highly motivated.”
So, education will change what people eat, but this does not translate to decreasing caloric intake! And then when it gets hard, it will depend on motivation as to what changes. In short caloric intake is about motivation, not education.