The rising obesity epidemic in the United States may be explained more by lack of physical activity, than by excessive eating, according to a study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Medicine.
Researchers examined national data from the last 20 years and found that the number of women who said they got no exercise had more than doubled, while the number of men who said they didn’t exercise had almost doubled.
In 1994, 19 percent of women said they got no physical activity; that number had climbed to 52 percent in 2010. Among men, the number rose from 11 percent in 1994, to 43 percent in 2010. African American and Mexican American women reported the biggest decreases in physical activity.
During this study period, there was an increase in the body mass index (BMI) of participants. BMI is an estimate of a person’s body fat, obtained by dividing height by weight.* Women 18 to 39 had the largest BMI increase. Abdominal obesity also increased, especially in women.
And yet, caloric intake for adults participating in the study remained the same!
Researchers cautioned that while inactivity and obesity were found to go together, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link between the two. But they did conclude that the increase in obesity rates in the U.S. does not appear to be caused mainly by an increase in calorie consumption among Americans.
Study authors stated that their findings showed “troublesome (obesity) trends” in younger adults, women, and abdominal obesity, as well as continuing racial/ethnic disparities. An accompanying commentary by the journal’s managing editor stated that for this country to truly take control of health and health care costs, communities need to provide safe places for people to exercise, ensure an abundant supply of healthy food and empower Americans to take control of their health.
Obesity Can Reduce Life Expectancy by up to 14 Years
And there is plenty of incentive to take measures to maintain one’s weight at a healthy level. Another study, also published online earlier this year, in PLOS Medicine, found that people who are severely obese may live as many as 14 years less.
Researchers analyzed data from 20 previous studies and found that having a BMI higher than 40, which is considered severely obese, increased the likelihood of premature death from heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Death rates for severely obese adults were about 2.5 times higher than for adults of normal weight. A normal-weight BMI is one between 18.5 and 24.9.
The study reviewed previous research on close to 10,000 severely obese people who had never smoked, never had any chronic illness. These subjects were compared to almost 304,000 people of normal weight, over a 30-year period. During that time, the severely obese were more likely to die than those of normal weight.
Heart disease was the major cause of death in the severely obese, followed by cancer, diabetes, kidney and liver disease. In addition, the risk of dying from any of these illnesses increased along with weight.
Compared to people of normal weight, severely obese people’s lifespans were cut between 6.5 and 13.7 years — similar to the lifespan reduction in people who smoke, the lead researcher pointed out.
Severe obesity leads to an additional 509 deaths per 100,000 men each year, and 382 additional deaths per 100,000 women. The researchers said it was unclear whether losing weight would lengthen a person’s lifespan, but not becoming obese in the first place increases lifespan.
Some 6 percent of U.S. adults are severely obese, according to information provided with the report.
Controlling Weight with the Food Choices that We Make
According to the first study, it’s not just how many calories we eat that’s important.
Billions have been made by the diet industry, which periodically sells consumers on this or that diet. But the fact will always be that if we eat natural and minimally processed foods, in balanced amounts, and we stay active, we’ll seldom have to worry about packing excess weight.
A healthy diet for staying slim is one that includes a lot of vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products — or lesser amounts of whole-fat dairy. A slimming diet does NOT include so-called diet products, which always contain artificial chemicals and sweeteners or stabilizers that reduce nutritional value and can be toxic.
For example, do you eat margarine because it’s presumably better for your heart or waistline than real butter? Margarine is nothing but lab chemicals and processed vegetable oils. You are much better off just using butter, but in moderation; or, if you prefer, finding other ways to flavor your toast or steamed vegetables, such as a light drizzle of heart-healthy and natural olive oil.
You have to be a label reader, if you care about what goes in your system. Some products, such as non-fat, unsweetened yogurt, are fine to eat; but low-fat sour cream and low-fat cheeses are not, as they contain non-nutritive fillers that only take away nutrition.
One place where many people go wrong and put on excess pounds is when they eat unhealthy snacks: lots of chips and sodas, for instance, are just a lot of carbohydrates and little else (and can come with a lot of chemicals, too, as most sodas do). Better snacking choices are: chopped vegetables dipped in mustard or vinegar-and-oil dressing; vegetables with cheese chunks; nuts; seeds; hard-boiled eggs with all-natural crackers; fruit juices diluted with water, and so forth.
You have to choose your snacks wisely, because after a while, the calories and chemicals in unhealthy foods will add up. The key is to make the calories that you eat count. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, plain raisins or yogurt-covered raisins are very healthy. A piece of all-natural bread with all-natural preserves or jam is a good choice, too. As are fruits in general; bananas and all-natural peanut butter are a nutritious snacking choice. As is pop corn — just read the label and see that it doesn’t have an assortment of chemicals, including artificial butter.
You don’t want to eat anything artificial or chemical-laden. If it comes from the Earth, it’s great to eat as part of a balanced diet. If it’s processed with chemicals … better leave it on the store shelf.
*The easy way to calculate your BMI is by typing “BMI calculator” on a search engine, then typing in your height and weight in one of the entries.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.