A new US study has confirmed that obesity levels are continuing to rise, despite people being more physically active than in previous decades. While many of us are running, cycling and exercising on a regular basis, our diets remain pretty woeful.
Obese exercise picture from Shutterstock
Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington analysed BMI statistics and physical activity levels across 1,405 counties in North America. They found that while there has been a significant increase in the number of people exercising, the trend has had little impact on the nation's obesity levels:
As physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, so did the percentage of the population considered obese. Obesity and risk factors from poor diets, smoking, and high blood pressure all are causing a drag on US life expectancies, which increased slowly compared to the country’s economic peers between 1985 and 2010.
In some US counties, male obesity levels leapt by more than 15 percent in just ten years. Life expectancy, meanwhile, was found to be 73 years in some regions of the US, which is lower than Botswana.
While the United States continues to be one of the fattest nations on Earth, the paradoxical rise of both exercise and obesity levels can be found in many developed countries, including Australia.
According to Bruce Neal, Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney and senior director at The George Institute for Global Health, this anomaly is caused by the excess of energy provided by our food supply which outstrips any gains made by exercise. In other words, many people who hit the gym are still eating like pigs.
"At its most basic level, obesity is easily understood as a problem of energy balance – if energy intake from food exceeds energy expenditure from physical activity, weight gain ensues," Neal explains.
"The message is plain – the primary driver of the obesity epidemic is now the food supply, and interventions targeting physical activity are not going to resolve it...Put simply, the enormous commercial success enjoyed by the food industry is causing what promises to be one of the greatest public health disasters of our time."
Neal argues that personal responsibility has failed to stem the tide of obesity and stricter measures need to be put in place, including the reformulation of foods to reduce salt, fat, and sugar levels as well as repacking food into smaller, less energy-dense servings.
We'd also argue that non-consistent exercise regimes play a part the aforementioned anomaly. We all have a few friends whose weight constantly yo-yos — whether due to poor metabolism or a lack of willpower they can never seem to keep the weight off despite intermittent bouts of intense exercise.