Research Finds Inactivity Not the Cause of Childhood Obesity


Which came first?  A lack of exercise, or the fat kid?  Obese children have long been painted as lazy, and it’s been assumed their inactivity – along with a poor diet – contributed to their size.  But ScienceDaily reported yesterday on a shocking new discovery published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood that avoiding exercise “has little if any role to play in the obesity epidemic among children.”

If you’re like most parents who are concerned for their kids’ health, you might be wondering what drove anyone to question the effectiveness of exercise in fighting fat.  Physical activity has clear benefits outside of weight loss, including promoting mental health.  Researchers at The EarlyBird Diabetes Study were concerned about findings from a 2009 study showing that “of all trials using physical activity to reduce childhood obesity, weight loss amount(ed) to just 90g (3oz) over three years.”  Gulp.  Nobody wants to work their butt off only to find out they haven’t worked any of their butt off.  That’s disheartening, to say the least.  Yet oddly encouraging to anyone who has “tried everything” but still struggled to lose weight.

So scientists at EarlyBird set out to prove that it’s not that “inactivity leads to fatness.  It could equally well be the other way round: that obesity leads to inactivity.”  They say “physical activity had no impact on weight change, but weight clearly led to less activity.”  Experts insist that the focus in fighting the obesity epidemic must shift from encouraging physical activity as a solution to changing what and how much children eat.  They’re not suggesting that exercise is unimportant, but that losing weight via healthy eating habits will enable children to enjoy their bodies more.

If you’ve always been a fit person, these results may boggle you.  But just as some people don’t need to work out to stay thin, others can work out all they want and never lose all of their fat.  I spent all of 2009 working out just so I’d be able to work out, and though I enjoyed it, it didn’t really work out.  I’m still roughly the same size I was last year, though my shape has changed a bit and I do feel better.  I’m glad this sort of Biggest Loser approach to weight loss has been debunked, though.  I’ve often wondered how many contestants on that show are fat again now that the cameras are gone.  My friend, comedian Poppi Kramer, won the Biggest Loser at home challenge a few years back, and she still works out for several hours a day in order to keep her gorgeous figure.  (Should anyone have to work out for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week?)  I’m not advocating obesity, which puts people at obvious risk to their health, but I do think it’s okay, as long as you’re healthy, to have a little more to love.

Photo: cliff1066 via Flickr