The carbohydrate-insulin model: a physiological perspective on the obesity pandemic

Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Sep 13;nqab270. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab270. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

According to a commonly held view, the obesity pandemic is caused by overconsumption of modern, highly palatable, energy-dense processed foods, exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle. However, obesity rates remain at historic highs, despite a persistent focus on eating less and moving more, as guided by the energy balance model (EBM). This public health failure may arise from a fundamental limitation of the EBM itself. Conceptualizing obesity as a disorder of energy balance restates a principle of physics without considering the biological mechanisms that promote weight gain. An alternative paradigm, the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM), proposes a reversal of causal direction. According to the CIM, increasing fat deposition in the body-resulting from the hormonal responses to a high-glycemic-load diet-drives positive energy balance. The CIM provides a conceptual framework with testable hypotheses for how various modifiable factors influence energy balance and fat storage. Rigorous research is needed to compare the validity of these 2 models, which have substantially different implications for obesity management, and to generate new models that best encompass the evidence.

Keywords: dietary carbohydrate; endocrinology; energy balance; glucagon; incretins; insulin; macronutrients; obesity; scholarly discourse; weight loss.