The ‘calories in versus calories out’ message often is used by the food industry as a formula for weight management – particularly by those companies that sell high-calorie foods and drinks. But the authors of this latest paper say physical activity does not promote weight loss – although it has other health benefits, including reducing risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers.
“Members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting, and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise,” they wrote.
Corporate sports sponsorship
The authors, who include UK cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, argue that carbohydrates – and sugar in particular – promote fat storage. They urge an end to food and drink company sponsorship of sports, citing Coca-Cola as an example, which may suggest that consumption of their high-sugar products is fine if balanced with exercise.
“It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery. Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet,” they wrote.
Exercise for weight maintenance, not loss
Professor Iain Broom, director of Robert Gordon University’s Centre for Obesity Research and Epidemiology in Aberdeen, said the article contained some misconceptions about the effects of different macronutrients but agreed that increased exercise does not contribute to weight loss.
“What exercise (increased activity) does, in association with appropriate dietary intervention, is to promote weight loss maintenance once weight has been lost, but it is a poor contributory factor to promoting weight loss,” he said.
Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, agreed that exercise alone was less effective than dietary interventions to reverse obesity.
“Given that obesity, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are all risk factors for chronic disease, it makes good sense to seek to change both diet and activity behaviours to lose weight and improve health,” she said.
“To achieve this will need a raft of changes at all levels: practical support for individuals to change their behaviour, changes in local environments to both support better food choices and greater physical activity; and some national policy action too…Rather than trade one off against the other – sugar vs fat, diet vs activity, individual vs population we need to take action across the full range.”
Also responding to the article, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, urged the food industry to reduce sugar levels in foods, as well as salt and fat.
“The industry needs to take greater responsibility when promoting products that are high in sugar,” he added.
Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine
“It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet”
Authors: A Malhotra, T Noakes, S Phinney