Everyone knows the old adage: Weight loss is 80% about what you eat, and 20% exercise. Eat less, move more. Every year around January 1, millions of people resolve to “get fit” and “work off” their guts, spending hours in gyms. However, a scathing editorial published by doctors in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says it’s high time we busted the myth of exercising our way to a slim physique: When it comes to fighting obesity, there’s no outrunning a bad diet.
The authors cite a study that found that a poor diet now accounts for more disease that inactivity, smoking and alcohol combined. And yet, they say, millions of people (including doctors) are still under the impression that exercise is the most important factor in maintaining a healthy weight and general physical wellness. The real culprit is the skyrocketing consumption of unhealthy foods, specifically sugar and other refined carbohydrates. As for why the myth of exercising for metabolic health persists, the authors liken the junk food industry to the tobacco industry of years past.
“The tobacco industry successfully stalled government intervention for 50 years starting from when the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published. 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.”
For instance beverage giant Coca Cola, who the authors say spent $3.3 billion in advertising in 2013 (much of it tied to sports), pushes on consumers a message that all calories count the same. All calories count the same, goes the thinking, and it’s ok to consume empty calories so long as one exercises sufficiently to offset their metabolic impact. This just isn’t the case, however, according to the authors.
“Science tells us this is misleading and wrong. It is where the calories come from that is crucial. Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger. Fat calories induce fullness or ‘satiation’,” they wrote.
Basically, sugar and refined carbohydrates are to blame for the global obesity epidemic. Health professionals know this, and yet a massive PR machine works to build what the authors call a “health halo” around foods and snacks that are decidedly unhealthy. Until guidelines are issued that make healthy choices the default choices, the authors write, little will change. Of course, exercise has myriad benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and even some cancers – just not substantial weight loss. Consumers (and the industry that serves them) should consider that when reaching for a sugary sports drink after a workout.
“Healthy choice must become the easy choice. Health clubs and gyms therefore also need to set an example by removing the sale of sugary drinks and junk food from their premises,” said the authors.