During the session, Professor Hill covered various fascinating questions of the debate on how to deal with the obesity epidemic. He finds that the debate tends to be oversimplified into a matter of either increasing physical exercise or consuming less calorie-intense food.
However this approach is not sustainable:
"'Few people can maintain significant food restriction – as with a low calorie diet – over a long period of time because we are programmed for survival, not starvation." says Professor Hill.
Instead, he believes that energy balance should be our focus – this is a complex concept consisting of various components, namely, energy intake, energy expenditure and energy storage. When developing strategies to tackle obesity, these components should not be focused on singularly, but all kept in mind together.
The research of Professor Hill and his peers reveals some interesting findings about low calorie sweeteners. For instance, almost none of the members of the National Weight Control Registry drink full sugar beverages, whereas 70% of these individuals include beverages sweetened with low calorie sweeteners in their diets. In fact, Professor Hill and his peers are now looking into the question of whether there is any difference between these low-calorie sweetened beverages and water, when it comes to losing weight. That is, totally replacing soft drinks (including those containing sweeteners) with water may produce the same effect when trying to lose weight as a diet that includes low calorie sweeteners.
Opting for low-calorie sweeteners instead of sugary food and drink is therefore an example of the "small changes" approach, of which Professor Hill is an advocate. This means making small changes to your life in order to take steps in the right direction towards fighting obesity. When people start to make a few small changes, they are more likely to continue to make more and more – this ultimately results in big changes and big differences to their lives.
He says: "The solution is an innovative approach using small and sustainable changes to our diet and physical activity patterns. When these changes are made part of our everyday lives, we benefit without feeling deprived."