A British Journal of Sports Medicine editorial has dispelled the myth that exercise is the key to weight loss – and to health. It claimed that this myth is erroneous and pervasive, and that it must end.
The major point the team makes – which they say the public doesn’t really understand – is that exercise in and of itself doesn’t really lead to weight loss…. This is not to say that exercise is worthless; far be it, for it may lead to a number of excellent health effects, but NOT to weight loss.
“Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers by at least 30%,” they write. “However, physical activity does not promote weight loss.”
In the last 30 years, exercise has stayed about the same, while overweight and obesity rates have skyrocketed. The culprit then must be the type of food we’re eating: highly-processed sugary foods and sodas have taken over from cabbage soup. “According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports,” they write, “poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.” This is a disturbing statistic. But it gets worse.
Their main issue is that exercise accompanied by poor diet causes metabolic markers to arise, that lead to a very high risk of chronic illness and early mortality. “Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbour metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.”
And the crux of the issue is this: We’re continually “fed” the idea that all that’s behind the rise in obesity is lack of exercise, or sedentariness.
There have certainly been a lot of studies and popular articles suggesting that sitting is our downfall. Instead of effective messages about diet and health that is scientifically proven to be the real problem; “members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting,” the team writes, “and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry’s Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco.” Worse, unlike big tobacco, they even target our children with their death-laden “happy” meals.
“Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger,” the write. “Fat calories induce fullness or satiation.” For every additional 150 calories in sugar (i.e., a can of soda) a person consumes per day, the risk for diabetes rises 11-fold, regardless of how much or little we exercise. The single most effective thing people can do for their weight, they write, is to restrict calories rather than strive to burn them away, and more importantly to restrict carbohydrates.
The solution? Celebrity endorsements might need to be tweaked, the authors say, and certainly the way foods are advertised and, perhaps, created, need to be shifted. The public should be repeatedly hit with the message that whole, natural foods, where possible and affordable is the best way to go.
The authors finish: “It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery. Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet.” Indeed, let’s hit the corporates that literally profiteer from our hastened demise, and improve our health at the same time.