Those who are loathe to exercise can take heart. Blame the refrigerator—rather than not going to the gym—for your ever-expanding waistlines. This is according to a new United Nations study released at an international obesity conference in Amsterdam this past May. It shows that overeating accounts for the obesity epidemic in America.
“Over-eating, not a lack of exercise, is to blame for the American obesity epidemic,” the study says, while warning that physical activity could not fully compensate for excess calories.
So, there’s no need to feel guilty about not working out every day. It doesn’t matter …that much. What matters is that we need to eat less.
The study was presented at the 17th European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It seems they predicted—and the results bore out—that the average child gained nearly 9 pounds between the 1970s and 2000s. Overeating was likely to blame. Read a report on the study
Researchers predicted adults would be 23.8 pounds heavier, but in fact they were 20 pounds heavier. They said people gained weight because they ate too much, and noted that increases in physical activity over the 30 years may have blunted what would otherwise have been a higher weight gain.
“To return to the average weights of the 1970s, we would need to reverse the increased food intake of about 350 calories a day for children (about one can of fizzy drink and a small portion of French fries) and 500 calories a day for adults (about one large hamburger),” according to Boyd Swinburn, chair of population health and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Australia.
Swinburn says that “Alternatively, we could achieve similar results by increasing physical activity by about 150 minutes a day of extra walking for children and 110 minutes for adults; but realistically, although a combination of both is needed, the focus would have to be on reducing calorie intake”, i.e. eating less.
Physical activity should not be ignored as a contributor to reducing obesity, explains Swinburn, and it should continue to be promoted because of its many benefits. Nevertheless, he says that from a public policy perspective, expectations regarding what can be achieved with exercise need to be lowered and emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less.
At Down to Earth, we promote that good health can be achieved by adopting a vegetarian diet consisting of organic produce and organic and natural foods. A position paper from the American Dietetic Association shows that we are not alone in this assessment, as I quote:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. …This position paper reviews the current scientific data related to key nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids and iodine. A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients […Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.” 1
The most telling part about all this is that a vegetarian diet reduces weight. Research by the Mayo Clinic has shown that, on average, people who follow a vegetarian diet eat fewer calories and less fat than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians also tend to have lower body weight relative to their height than non-vegetarians. 2
To add strength to this argument, I point to a scientific review in the April 2006 edition of Nutrition Review, which shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. The study was conducted by Dr. Susan E. Berkow and Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They found that vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and they experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. These findings are the result of data collected from 87 studies. The data showed that the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting. Please read what Dr. Barnard had to say about the findings:
"There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat." Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.” 3
In essence, these statements by prominent scientific institutions are saying that a vegetarian diet is healthy and can be a major weapon in the fight against obesity. I submit for your consideration that reducing obesity is not just a function of eating less, but of what you eat as well.
- American Dietetic Association, “Vegetarian Diets,” June 2003 (Vol. 103, Issue 6, Pages 748-765).
- Mayo Clinic.com, “Vegetarian Diet: will it help me loose weight?."
- Nutrition Review, “New scientific review shows vegetarian diets cause major weight loss,” April 1, 2006.