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ABC high flier's new book challenges the law of counting calories


24 September 2012

Steve Simpson's book addresses nutrition's pervasive and complex role in biology, from how it affects the behaviour and health of individuals, through to how it shapes food webs and ecosystems.
Steve Simpson's book addresses nutrition's pervasive and complex role in biology, from how it affects the behaviour and health of individuals, through to how it shapes food webs and ecosystems.

You may have seen him taking to the sky in gliders, helicopters and hot air balloons in the ABC TV program Great Southern Land which premiered last night, but University of Sydney scientist Professor Steve Simpson will also thrill audiences with his latest book.

The 2009 NSW Scientist of the Year has just published The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity (Princeton University Press) with Massey University colleague Professor David Raubenheimer.

The Nature of Nutrition is the first book to address nutrition's pervasive and complex role in biology, from how it affects the behaviour and health of individuals, through to how it shapes food webs and ecosystems.

"Nutrition has long been considered more the domain of medicine and agriculture than of the biological sciences, yet it touches and shapes all aspects of the natural world, as well as impacts human health and global geopolitics," Professor Simpson said.

"The need for nutrients determines whether wild animals thrive, how populations evolve and decline, and how ecological communities are structured."

The book challenges the role counting calories has played in controlling weight and obesity levels, instead demonstrating that the balance of nutrients in the diet is far more critical, influencing appetite and energy intake, obesity, metabolic health, ageing, immunity, infectious disease risk, and the vitally important communities of bacteria that live in the gut.

Simpson and Raubenheimer provide a comprehensive theoretical approach to the analysis of nutrition entitled the Geometric Framework. They show how it can help us understand the links between nutrition and the biology of individual animals, ranging from locusts and fruit flies through to rodents and humans. They examine the mechanisms that influence the nutritional interactions of an animal with its environment, and the consequences of these interactions in terms of health, immune responses, and lifespan. Then they demonstrate how the Geometric Framework can be used to tackle issues in applied nutrition, such as the problem of optimising diets for livestock and endangered species, and how it can also help to address the epidemic of human obesity and metabolic disease.

"There are three big themes in biology - sex, death and food. In this book, we put food back to centre stage, and show that we must understand nutrition if we are to understand just about anything in biology - including ourselves," Professor Simpson said.

As well as his Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellow work in the field of biological sciences, Simpson is also the Academic Director of the University's Charles Perkins Centre, a revolutionary cross disciplinary research initiative which aims to reduce the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not just in Australia, but worldwide.

Professor Simpson's research has been recognised with numerous awards and honours including being elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2007, awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research in 2008, named NSW Scientist of the Year in 2009, and awarded the Wigglesworth Medal from the Royal Entomological Society of London in 2010.


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Media enquiries: Rachel Gleeson, 0478 409 131, 02 9351 3615, rachel.gleeson@sydney.edu.au