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Sedentary lifestyle causes obesity, says new study: Diet experts disagree

Fast food isn't the problem when it comes to obesity, insist researchers.
Fast food isn't the problem when it comes to obesity, insist researchers.Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For years, weight loss experts have said that diet counts more than exercise when it comes to shedding pounds. Now a new study is contradicting that conventional wisdom by saying that it's our national lack of exercise rather than too much food that's the problem, reported CBS News on July 8.

To conduct the study, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers analyzed the physical activity of women and men in different age groups. They discovered that in the past two decades, the increase in the average body mass index (BMI) paralleled the decrease in physical activity. In particular, women between the ages of 18 to 39 shifted to more sedentary lifestyles.

"Our findings do not support the popular notion that the increase of obesity in the United States can be attributed primarily to sustained increase over time in the average daily caloric intake of Americans," contended study author Dr. Uri Ladabaum, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

And in perhaps the most controversial conclusion of the researchers, they stated that on average, we are not consuming more food. "We wouldn't say that calories don't count, but the main takeaway is that we have to look very carefully at physical activity. The problem is not all in the intake of calories," Ladabaum told the Los Angeles Times in a July 8 interview.

Even the researchers experienced shock when they discovered to what degree we are a nation of couch potatoes. Between 1988 to 2010, women who said that they did no exercise during their free time jumped from 19 percent to 52 percent. Men weren't far behind, with a leap from 11 percent to 43 percent.

"We suspected there was a trend in that direction, but not that magnitude," admitted Ladabaum. "People can get exercise in other ways, but most people don't walk or bike to work, and most people are not in jobs that require physical activity."

So precisely how much exercise do you need to achieve your weight loss goals, and is it possible that it's actually the quality of our calories rather than the quantity that's the problem?

The answers to those questions are linked, according to Robb Wolf, a Paleo diet expert. He believes in the benefits of CrossFit, but cautions that if your diet is poor, your results will equally be lacking in terms of sustained weight loss.

"From what we see in the literature and day to day experience, we could exercise people morning, noon and night and if the food composition is poor they will pack in enough insulin spiking food to maintain or even regress. It’s a bummer, but it’s true," he says succinctly.

Agreeing with him is Chris Powell, the transformation specialist for "Extreme Weight Loss." On a recent episode of "The View," Chris stated that diet trumps exercise when it comes to weight loss.

However, he believes that for dramatic results as well as weight maintenance, exercise is a must. And sometimes the exercise element can give someone the focus and mental clarity to overcome the challenge of a strict diet. That theory played out on the July 8 episode of "Extreme Weight Loss."

During the show, Chris guided a man named David who weighed more than 400 pounds through 365 days of mental, emotional and physical transformations. The exercise element did confirm the Stanford University study, as David went from a primarily sedentary lifestyle to one where he engaged in mixed martial arts (MMA). Yet diet was equally important.

"Exercise causes weight loss when it’s accompanied by diet… but then again, so does art lessons," says Dr. William Lagakos in a different look at exercise versus diet for weight loss. He cites studies showing that when it comes to getting the most bang for your exercise buck, spending hours doing resistance training doesn't accomplish much with regard to numbers on the scale.

After six months of high intensity weight training, the average weight loss was two pounds in one study. "The Laws of Energy Balance: merciless," noted Lagakos.