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Controversial Study Suggests Physical Activity Levels Unrelated to Obesity

A new study claims that physical inactivity has little to do with causing obesity. The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, compared the energy expenditure of Westerners with Hadza, an indigenous population in Tanzania, Africa, who hunt and gather their food. Researchers found that despite the vast difference in activity levels between the two populations, both spent the same amount of energy per day, suggesting that physical activity is not a large factor in determining body weight. For more details on the study, click here

According to researchers, the findings suggest that obesity has more to do with what Westerner’s eat, and less with how much exercise they get. Unlike Westerners, Hadza does not eat processed foods, and since they are hunter-gatherers, they only eat what they can “catch,” whereas a significant number of Westerners overeat (not to mention the foods they are eating are high in calories).

High quality foods are essential to managing one’s weight. However, this should not overshadow the other significant health benefits of exercise, not just its impact on weight loss. When it comes to preventing chronic diseases—many of which are caused by obesity—physical activity is essential. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is responsible for 6% of deaths globally, 21-25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease (reduced blood flow to the heart). It is also important to note that in the United States, 75% of health care costs are due to chronic diseases.

Some critics have said that the study’s findings might have to do with the fact that the Hadza people have a lower basal heart rate than Westerners, resulting in lower energy expenditure despite higher activity levels.

Regardless, physical activity plays an important role in managing one’s health. As advocates for health promotion, we must acknowledge that many factors contribute to the obesity epidemic, including lack of exercise, and that the solution to the problem is a combination of programs and policies.

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