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September 8, 2004

Corpulence and Carbs in 1892

Author Affiliations

Letters Section Editor: Robert M. Golub, MD, Senior Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(10):1174. doi:10.1001/jama.292.10.1174-a

To the Editor: Excerpts from an English manual of home medicine in 1892.1 Plus ça change?

A moderate amount of fat is one of the signs of health . . . in excess (it) becomes not only burdensome and unsightly, but a real and serious evil. . . . It is said that hereditary tendency exercises a marked influence in the production of corpulence, and . . . race, again, is an important element in the question: the Americans are remarkable for their thinness, and the Arabs are almost destitute of fat; whilst on the other hand Europeans, and more especially the English and Dutch, are proverbial for the fullness of their figures.

Mr Banting's widely read "Letter on Corpulence" . . . tells us that for years he struggled in vain against constantly augmenting fatness [Banting is described as being aged 66 years, about 5'5" and 202 lb in 1862]. At last . . . he almost abandoned the use of bread, butter, sugar, beer, and potatoes, eating freely and fully, however, of other kinds of food. In this way he . . . lost in thirty-eight weeks thirty-five pounds in weight . . . he improved wonderfully in general health.

This plan of treatment . . . should not be adopted indiscriminately. We have heard of cases in which a too close addiction to "Bantingism" has been followed by very unfavourable results. . . . With obesity, as with most other things, prevention is better than cure . . . in the great majority of cases if a man increases much in weight between the ages of thirty and sixty he is either eating or drinking too much, or is less active in body and mind than he should be. Before resorting to Bantingism he should try if he cannot bring himself down by giving up wine, spirits, and beer, by lessening the amount of food by one-third or even more (without altering its nature), and by taking more exercise.