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Speaker Spotlight: Dr Giles Yeo

Giles Yeo is Principal Research Associate at MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit and a Scientific Director of the Genomics/Transcriptomics Core at the University of Cambridge. He is author of Why calories don’t count and will be speaking about its findings in Why calories don't count on 8th April, 6-7pm.

Cambridge Festival: What prompted your latest book?

GY: We worship calories today, we count them, we almost always cut them and we seem to equate the number of calories to how healthy a given food is. Given this, I thought it was time to take a deep dive, a meditation so to speak, into the calorie. Are foods with less calories automatically healthier? Are all calories equal?

Cambridge Festival: How does it progress from your previous book, Gene Eating?

GY: I did (or tried to) two things in Gene Eating. First, I explored the genetics of appetite control; and second, I debunked a number of fad diets out there. This book focuses specifically on the calorie, its history, its weaponisation by the diet industry and how we can better use it in today’s food environment.

Cambridge Festival: Why do you think it is necessary?

GY: The vast majority of the non-infectious disease burden we face today (we are obviously in the middle of an infectious disease pandemic) is diet-related. So it is undoubtedly true that we need to fix our diets. However, is our laser-like focus on the calorie the way to go? I argue not. The calorie counts we see everywhere are WRONG. Every single one. People need to know this!

Cambridge Festival: Your recent books have been very accessible. Why is public engagement on this topic important?

GY: I think what the past couple of years have shown is how important good public engagement of science is. Covid, however, will disappear (we hope); after all, we have multiple vaccines for it, if only people would take them! We have no vaccines for obesity and other diet-related illnesses and they are going to stay around for a long time more. We need good public engagement around this topic if we are to get society to understand the underlying science and the policy makers to put resources in the right place so we can have a sustainable strategy to solve the problem.

Cambridge Festival: Do you see the tide turning on calorie-controlled diets?

GY: To be honest, I don’t know. I am but a lone voice, while there are a zillion Instagram food gurus out there selling unrealistic, yet attractively simple solutions. So let us see!

Cambridge Festival: What do you think it is about calorie counting that makes it so widespread, even though it doesn't work?

GY: I think it is the misunderstanding about the calorie. We all think we understand it, but most people don’t know that the calorie counts we see today are all wrong.  

Cambridge Festival: Do you think Covid lockdowns will have increased obesity issues?

GY: Undoubtedly, many people have gained weight during Covid lockdowns. There are many reasons, of course - from increased stress eating in many people to having more time to cook, to a reduction of physical activity.

Cambridge Festival: Have you any plans for another popular science book?

GY: Yes! But I’m still working through ideas so I can’t share anything yet!