Who in our society — aside from the folks who believe that man walked with the dinosaurs back when Earth was created a few thousand years ago — can resist science? We eat up, sometimes in a literal sense, every new study that finds that one substance or another might be good for us, might reduce our chances of heart disease or curb hair loss.
Still, every once in awhile, the latest findings leave us scratching our heads. And so it was for me when researchers concluded, with apparent dismay, that although some Americans were exercising more, there didn’t seem to be much of an effect on the obesity rate.
Times reporter Noam N. Levey quotes the lead researcher saying Americans have made “a lot of progress” when it comes to getting their bodies moving.
“To tackle obesity, we need to do this. But we probably also need to do more,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, whose study was published in Population Health Metrics. “Just counting on physical activity is not going to be the solution.”
Probably need to do more? Hasn’t the need to do a whole lot more been well established?
Let’s look at the uptick in physical activity Murray is referring to. Women were better about stepping up the pace than men, with 51.3% getting adequate exercise. That was up from 46.7% a decade ago. An improvement, for sure, but it’s not as though America suddenly stood up from the couch and embraced fitness. And adequate is defined as 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. That translates to a little more than 20 minutes of walking a day.
Did anyone seriously think that a modest rise in the number of women doing very modest amounts of moderate exercise was doing to make a serious dent in obesity? Especially if people figured that the extra exercise entitled them to bigger helpings of food?
It’s wonderful that Americans are starting to get the message about the importance of exercise, even modest exercise, which has important benefits even if no one loses a pound from it. But overcoming a national weight problem is a lot more complicated than walking a mile a day. That much exercise burns about 130 calories in a 200-pound person, and chances are Americans are scarfing down a whole lot more junk food within 24 hours than they're walking off.
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