Meadville Tribune

Our Health

December 27, 2013

Five myths about obesity

(Continued)

4. The problem is not that we eat too much, but that we are too sedentary.

First lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign is based on the idea that if kids exercised more, childhood obesity rates would decline. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was no significant decrease in physical activity levels as obesity rates climbed in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, although a drop in work-related physical activity may account for up to 100 fewer calories burned, leisure physical activity appears to have increased, and Americans keep tipping the scales.

There is compelling evidence that the increase in calories consumed explains the rise in obesity. The National Health and Nutrition Examination found that people consume, on average, more than 500 more calories per day now than they did in the late 1970s, before obesity rates accelerated. That's like having a Christmas dinner twice a week or more. It wouldn't be a problem if we stuffed ourselves only once a year, but all-you-can-eat feasts are now available all the time. It's nearly impossible for most of us to exercise enough to burn off these excess calories.

5. We can conquer obesity through better education about diet and nutrition.

According to a physicians' health study, 44 percent of male doctors are overweight. A study by the University of Maryland School of Nursing found that 55 percent of nurses surveyed were overweight or obese. If people who provide health care cannot control their weight, why would nutrition education alone make a difference for others?

Even with more information about food, extra-large portions and sophisticated marketing messages undermine our ability to limit how much we consume. Consider Americans' alcohol consumption: Only licensed establishments can sell spirits to people older than 21, and no alcohol can be sold in vending machines. Yet there are very few standards or regulations to protect Americans from overeating.

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