What’s The True Obesity Culprit: Caloric Intake Or Physical Activity?

colorful vegetables
We’ve talked about how, in an effort to lose weight, simply eating fewer calories seems to be the most important single step a person can take. So on the flip side, what was the single most determining factor for the rise in obesity in America in the last 30 years? Was it our caloric intake or our physical activity level?
An article in TG Daily puts the spotlight on a recent study that tackles this very question.
A study being presented today at the European Congress on Obesity claims to be the first to examine the relative contribution of food and exercise habits to America’s obesity epidemic…
…researchers combined metabolic relationships, the laws of thermodynamics, epidemiological data and agricultural data, and concluded that the rise in obesity in the United States since the 1970s is almost entirely due to increased energy intake.”
It seems obvious enough that if the best way to lose weight is simply to eat less then an obesity epidemic would be caused by a populations’ overeating. But just how sure are the scientists who conducted the experiment?
The researchers used their findings to predict how much weight they would expect Americans to have gained over the 30-year period if food intake were the only influence. They used data from a nationally representative survey (NHANES) that recorded the weight of Americans in the 1970s and early 2000s to determine the actual weight gain over that period…
The researchers found that in children, the predicted and actual weight increase matched exactly, indicating that the increases in energy intake alone over the 30 years studied could explain the weight increase.”
The findings for the adults shows a very interesting point:
‘For adults, we predicted that they would be 10.8kg heavier, but in fact they were 8.6kg heavier. That suggests that excess food intake still explains the weight gain, but that there may have been increases in physical activity over the 30 years that have blunted what would otherwise have been a higher weight gain,’ Swinburn said.”
Here’s what I found most interesting about the study. It seems that as Americans saw themselves gaining weight throughout the 30 year period, they turned to exercise in an effort to lose the weight as opposed to re-adjusting their nutritional intake to mirror that of the pre-1970’s generation. After all, you can’t very well make a profit off of selling “less” of something, namely calories.
This lead me to investigate the presence of gyms in the U.S., and the results of the study suddenly make even more Future gymsense. According to an article by Diet Blog, The Rise Of The Gym Through History, some of the earliest gym chains such as Gold’s Gym were made popular in the 1970’s. These early gyms were followed swiftly by an influx of corporate gyms such as 24 Hour Fitness and LA Fitness in the 1980’s. And then in the 1990’s, celebrity appearances at gyms lead to the average Joe getting a membership despite an exemplary attendance record for going to work out.
So if you are looking to lose weight but you don’t want to make a huge lifestyle change right off the bat, start with cutting the calories and work your way up to the gym membership. Remember that although the physical activity represented only a small preventative factor in weight gain, exercise is essential for sound overall health.




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