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Activity Shown To Be Less Important for Weight Loss Than Food

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
food and weight loss

Contrary to popular belief and recommendations, activity may not be as important for weight loss as is diet. Researchers from Loyola University health system and other research centers, comparing African American women in Nigeria with those in metropolitan Chicago, found that the two groups burned the same amount of daily calories during activity, yet the Nigerian women weighed an average of 127 pounds, versus African American women in Chicago, who weighed an average of 184 pounds.

To obtain the results of the study, researchers included 172 African American women from the west side of Chicago and suburban Maywood, and 149 women from two rural Nigerian villages.

Richard Cooper, Ph.D., co-author of the study and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Loyola, points out the exercise leads to increased food intake. "We would love to say that physical activity has a positive effect on weight control, but that does not appear to be the case," says Cooper.

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According to Amy Luke, "Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint." Too often, we receive the message to simply exercise more to burn calories, perhaps causing some of the frustrations typically associated with weight loss.

Exercise is essential for good health, and the study does not recommend reducing physical activity known to prevent heart disease, diabetes, injuries from osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. However, "Decreased physical activity may not be the main cause of our obesity epidemic," says Amy Luke, Ph.D., corresponding author of the study in the September 2008 issue of the journal Obesity. Luke believes the difference is in the type of foods consumed by Nigerian women, which includes high fiber and carbohydrates, and low animal protein, low fat. Chicago women were comparably found to consume higher amounts of processed foods in addition to forty to forty- five percent more fat, but were just as active as the Nigerian women were.

The study may not provide entirely new insight into weight loss, but it does drive home the benefits of reducing animal fat in our diets, focusing on fresh foods, while increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables when trying to lose weight. Exercise alone is likely to be ineffective for combating obesity, without dietary constraints.

Continue your daily exercise program, and make it a goal to keep your body moving in 2009. If your weight loss efforts have come to a screeching halt in spite of increased exercise, it may be the result of the type of food, in addition to the additional quantity consumed daily. Keep a food diary to make sure you are not compensating for increased exercise by eating more. The new study reveals that food may be even more important for weight loss than activity.



As a children's physical activity specialist, I find this disturbing news that may very well result in kids leading even more sedentary lifestyles than they're already experiencing! Also, I have to say that I've always eaten well (and in small amounts), but years of spending too much time at the computer had a profound impact on my weight nonetheless. It wasn't until I began walking a mile a day that I was able to lose pounds -- 38 of them in fact! Obviously, my experience is contrary to what this study determined.
The study isn't saying that exercise is not helpful, but if you eat McDonalds everyday don't expect weight loss. If you don't restrain at all when it comes to food choices exercise is not enough.
Thank you! There are significant numbers of people who simply cannot exercise who already are disabled. It's important for them to know that dieting alone could help them reach a goal of weight loss - which in turn could lead to less pain, improved respiratory function, increased mobility, self-confidence, improved quality of life and a variety of other positives. I speak with patients also who are facing new procedures related to health. They still want to lose weight and stay in charge of their lives. Dieting alone, if it helps, is a huge benefit for a lot of people. I don't think there's cause to disturbed about the finding, really, I don't. Sometimes people just need a 'doable' starting point. I also think it's important to note that exercise does sometimes lead people to eat more. Then what happens if our ability to be active changes? Eating for weight control just makes sense and probably is most important.
Hi, and thank you for your comment. I think it is more an impetus to eat right. There is nothing taken away from exercise and activity as a powerful means to avoid disease, stay strong, remain flexible, and prevent disabilities from injury- perhaps just not necessarily as a primary means to lose weight. Also, remember, this is but one study, to be taken as just that - one study.