What’s to blame for expanding waistlines?

What’s to blame for expanding waistlines?

More than one-third of U.S. adults are now obese and a lack of exercise rather than diet may be to blame, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed 20 years’ worth of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found a sharp drop in Americans’ physical activity levels, while calorie consumption remained somewhat steady.

According to the study, the number of U.S. women who reported doing no physical activity rose from about 19 percent in 1994 to nearly 52 percent in 2010. For men, the number increased from about 11 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 2010.

During the same time period, the average caloric intake did not change, the researchers said, yet the obesity rate continued to rise. The average BMI (body mass index) increased by 0.37 percent per year in both men and women, with the most dramatic rise found among women ages 18 to 39.

Researchers did not examine what types of foods were consumed, but they did observe that total daily calorie, fat, carbohydrate and protein consumption have not changed significantly over the last 20 years.

“At the population level, we found a significant association between the level of leisure-time physical activity, but not daily caloric intake, and the increases in both BMI and waist circumference,” said lead study author Dr. Uri Ladabaum, in a news release.

However, two groups in the study differed from the rest, the researchers noted. Among women who reported no leisure-time physical activity, caloric intake did increase, and men with high levels of physical activity in their leisure time took in fewer calories.

The World Health Organization currently recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity throughout the week. But if you haven’t been exercising regularly, remember to start slowly, says Teresa Beckman, a physical therapist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.

“It may be necessary for you to start with just 10 or 15 minutes of activity a day,” Beckman said. “You can gradually increase duration and intensity over time, but always listen to your body.”

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  1. Before even reading the article I thought it the answer would be both – not either or! However, I cannot believe the percentage of people who don’t exercise at all. Even if it’s just a walk with my dog, I definitely feel the need to move every day.

  2. I wonder if the increase in technology use also has something to do with these numbers.

  3. When you start adding up all the “labor saving” devices we have in our culture, there is little reason to move at all. Not surprising…

  4. Judith A. Carlson July 9, 2014 at 11:04 am · Reply

    Then there are medications. I am on Spiriva, for which there is ample anecdotal evidence that it causes weight gain which manifests mostly as central obesity and is just about impossible to get rid of even after stopping the medication. Unfortunately, the drug company will not admit to it and there is no warning about it in any of the literature. I’m now on an 800-1000 calorie diet, exercise on a treadmill at 2.5 mph for a minimum of 20 minutes a day at least four days a week, and still have not lost even a pound of the 60 (as of yesterday) that I gained since being on the medication for almost two years. Unfortunately, I had an anaphylactic reaction to a different medication for my emphysema, so my pulmonologist and I are reluctant to take me off the Spiriva as it has me under good control. So, I seem to have a choice – be able to breathe or be obese, but we’re still working on it.

  5. Lynn Hutley

    Very true, Vince. And the study makes sense when you look at the general size of individuals in European countries where they might have high fat content in their diet but walk everywhere and thus keep their weight under control.

  6. Even if it is a quick walk around the block, it should be a priority to get moving! It is very interesting the amount of woman who said they do not exercise. I think that even light exercise could be a huge help in lowering the obesity rates!

  7. This is why we should continue to encourage people to get exercising by doing fun events like dancing or yoga. Exercising doesn’t need to be strictly running.

  8. The idea that lack of willpower to exercise is entirely to blame for people’s inactivity is both a lie and an insult in its simplistic viewpoint. It ignores some potent realities, namely that work has become far more sedentary and demanding than it used to be. Consider how many more people now work with computers than did in 1990, how many have computers at home, the degree to which white-collar workers are expected to work longer hours without complaint (especially since the Great Recession began; nobody wants to lose a job by complaining that employers’ expectations are just plain unreasonable), the greater number of working women who have families, and the fact that men still don’t do half the housework — especially in older and working-class families, where the stereotype that housework is still ‘women’s work’ is more likely to endure than in households that have one or more college-educated or white-collar workers or professionals.

    BTW, do you really think that husbands who are doctors, lawyers, cops, firemen, men who routinely work overtime, or elected officials contribute their fair share of time to housework and chilld care? Because I seriously doubt that. Things on that score may have improved somewhat since the 1950s, but they’re far from perfect yet.

    So: women who work and still have housework to do when they get home, shopping and errands to do on the way home, kids’ homework to look over, and meals to make once they do get home may very well be too tired to get that exercise in, no matter that they may know they need it. Oh, and how many bosses these days expect you to work through lunch or have lunch at your desk while you’re working? You think that free hour for lunch applies to everyone? Guess again. Some workers only get half an hour, and it’s not enough time to eat and get a walk in, let alone a gym class off premises, especially not if you also have to run errands on your lunch break.

    No, I don’t find this drop in leisure-time activity surprising at all, especially considering the drop in lesire time itself and how working conditions for the middle and working class have deteriorated over the last 20 years, thanks to downsizings, industry shake-ups and the recession. And then there’s the obnoxious fact that stress puts more weight on women than it does on men, thanks to cortisol, without any change in eating habits. Really? You never thought of any of this??? Under what rock have y’all been hiding?!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.