EAT less and move more was Stephen Hawking’s answer to solving the obesity crisis.

The world-renowned physicist, who died in 2018, was responsible for some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries so it was understandable that people sat up and took notice when he tackled the universal problem of weight management.

But is it really that simple? And if so, why is it continuing to rise across the demographic.

Around 18% of women in the least deprived areas of Scotland are said to be obese, compared with 40% in most deprived areas

However, those lucky enough to be able to afford organic, non-processed food and luxury gym memberships are not immune to expanding waistlines.  It is a “very complex” problem says Sebastian Chastin, an exercise researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University who says of Hawking’s energy-in-energy-out solution - “It couldn’t be more right and more wrong.”

“The more you move, the more you are going to expend energy and that’s good,” he says.


“But as you get stronger and get more muscle mass, that muscle mass requires more energy to be maintained.” This can lead to people feeling hungrier and consuming more calories, he says, or wrongly believing exercise gives you a mandate to over-indulge.

“Invariably when people only engage with one of those things (diet or exercise) they end up compensating with the other.

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“For example if you crash diet, you might not have the energy to exercise as much as you should. “It doesn’t mean that you will lose fat either. “

Some experts believe there is too much emphasis on exercise in public health messaging over diet and suggest this suits government because it transfers the responsibility to the individual.


They say the food industry must also share some of the blame for “over emphasising” exercise over diet. Prof Chastin mentions that Coca Cola has approached him a number of times to sponsor exercise research.

“Since Margaret Thatcher’s time, the emphasis has been on the individual to make the effort,” he says. “It’s your problem.

“We know it is almost impossible for people to do that who live in an area where the only food that is available is processed.”

“Exercise is very little to do with weight loss"

He believes employers have a responsibility to allow workers time to exercise. One of the benefits of a less rigid 9-5 is that it offers employees the flexibility to go for a run and compensate with an earlier start or later finish.

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He says cooking everything from scratch, eating at a slower pace, reducing portion size and gradually increasing exercise are relatively simple ways to shift the pounds as well as adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet - while avoiding highly processed meat substitutes.

“It’s a mentality - obesity in a way. As a Frenchman the first time I went to a supermarket in the UK, when I saw the name convenience food - for me there is nothing convenient about food, food is about enjoyment from the growing to the chopping and sharing it with family.


“In a market economy like the UK, food is just fuel and that just changes everything.

“The Japanese way of being healthy is to always feel a bit hungry and that has proven to be quite successful in terms of obesity," he says.

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum is a huge advocate of weight-loss clubs because of the peer support they offer.

He suggests people should consider life-time memberships in the way that those who suffer from addictions recognise they require continual support. In England, millions is being invested in free memberships, based on a GP referrals system, which has been operating in Scotland for some time and has reported positive results.

“Exercise is very little to do with weight loss", says Mr Fry. “It is mainly about keeping yourself healthy and fit and for preventing muscle wastage”.

He agrees with the campaign group Action Obesity Scotland who say most people are unaware how much alcoholic drinks add to calorie intake. It is pushing for manufacturers to be forced to display content after research found few  comply with guidelines.


He said he is “seething” with Boris Johnson for apparently pouring cold water on a proposal by Henry Dimbleby - the founder of the Leon chain of restaurants - to impose a tax on food manufacturers if salt and sugar levels exceed set levels.

“The Prime Minister said it could lead to a rise in food prices but it worked splendidly with fizzy drinks.

“We need to make the food better, eat less of it and although you must exercise for other good health reasons, you don’t have to exercise in the forlorn hope that you will lose a lot of weight”.

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One trial directly comparing calorie restriction and exercise found there was a similar reduction in weight in both groups. However, the amount of exercise being done was substantial. In a trial of around 50 men, weight loss was about 7.5 kg in both groups over 3 months, but the exercise group was burning 700 calories a day.

“That’s 60 minutes or more of moderate or high intensity physical activity", says Dr Lindsay Jaccks, an expert in Nutrition and Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.

“It’s easier to say ‘move more’ than ‘don’t eat all these delicious things the food industry has carefully formulated to be addictive and then marketed heavily to us since a young age.


“Of course, there are loads of other reasons to stay physically active besides weight loss – it has an independent effect on your risk of diabetes, for example, basically because stimulating your muscles helps pull sugar out of your blood (muscle cells are some of the few cells that have sugar transporters that respond to insulin).

She says portion size is also key and “strongly suggests” buying a  cheap kitchen scale and a measuring cup, and measuring food consumption for a week and recording it using an app such as the one created by Weight Watchers.

She said her partner who is a physician with a public health degree from Harvard was “shocked” to discover there are 39 calories in one cheese oatcake (by a well known brand).

“He usually snacks on a full pack which is six oatcakes and 234 calories. If you eat two packs, that’s a quarter of your recommended calories for the day.

“But oatcakes are a wholegrain and not fried (and no added sugar), so definitely a much healthier snack than crisps and many other savoury or sweet snacks.”