LONDON — A team of British cardiologists have said it’s time to “bust the myth” that regular exercise tackles obesity.
The strongly-worded editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, published in the May edition of the journal, says you can’t outrun a bad diet and that although regular exercise reduces the risk of developing a number of health issues such as heart disease, dementia, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t promote weight loss unless it is paired with dietary changes.
Worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980, according to the World Health Organization, with 600 million people globally categorised as obese. In the UK obesity affects one in four adults, according to the NHS.
The NHS defines obesity as adults who have a Body Mass Index of 30 or over.
The authors of the study say the public is “drowned by an unhelpful message” from the food industry that obesity is caused entirely by a lack of exercise, going so far as to describe the tactics used as “chillingly similar” to those employed by big tobacco companies when the links between smoking and lung cancer were first revealed.
“The tobacco industry successfully stalled government intervention for 50 years,” they say. “This sabotage was achieved using a ‘corporate playbook’ of denial, doubt, confusing the public and even buying the loyalty of bent scientists, at the cost of millions of lives.”
IMAGE: LEWIS WHYLD/PA WIRE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The food industry has also shifted the conversation to simple calorie counting, the authors write. But it’s the source of calories that matters, the editorial says, arguing that sugar calories promote the storage of fat and make people more hungry, while calories that actually come from fat make a person feel full.
The authors point to a study in the academic journal Nutrition that says the single most effective way to counter obesity is to restrict the intake of carbohydrates.
The editorial also strongly criticises sugary drinks, saying the association between “junk food and sport, must end.” It calls on the British government to put a tax on sugary drinks and ban the advertising of junk food as well as saying gyms shouldn’t sell the beverages.
In a statement emailed to Mashable,
Britain’s Food and Drink Federation strongly rejected comparisons with the tobacco industry, calling them “absurd and offensive”.
“Britain’s food and drink manufacturers are proud of their long track record of working to help improve UK diets and promote healthier lifestyles. But they’re not complacent, recognising the scale of the obesity challenge in the UK,” the statement says, pointing to the introduction nutrition information on food packaging and a push towards a reduction of salt usage.
It says that the benefits of exercise aren’t industry hype or conspiracy.
“Yes, companies are taking action to highlight the importance of physical activity. However, they recognise that where they can have the biggest impact is in helping people to achieve a balanced diet,” they say.
The NHS currently advises that people trying to lose weight should eat a balanced, calorie controlled diet and take up activities such as fast walking, jogging, swimming or tennis for up to 300 minutes per week.