Obesity has become a serious health issue in the United States—about 69 percent of adults are overweight or obese and 36 percent are obese, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. An arguably more concerning trend is obesity among children, with one in three children and young adults ages 2 to 19 being considered obese. And while one way of thinking is that sedentary lifestyles are a main cause of obesity, a recent study suggests that eating too much may play a bigger part than exercising too little. You may recognize this notion because every bodybuilder ever will tell you that diet is everything when it comes to weight loss or gain.
The study, done at Baylor University and published in Science Advances, focused on the lifestyles and calorie expenditures of children living in the United States and United Kingdom versus those of forager-horticulturist children in the Amazon rainforest. Yes, we’re pretty far out of your local gym here, but stay with us. Researchers found that although the Amazonian children were more 25 percent more physically active and spent more energy while resting because of higher immune system activity than children in the U.S. and UK, they didn’t actually burn more calories on the whole throughout the day.
Those findings suggest that all humans work with a similar budget of total daily energy expenditure, meaning whether you work out every day or binge-watch the latest Netflix drops, the total calories you burn in the course of a day won’t vary all that much. So keeping calories in check, not sweating on the treadmill for an extra half hour every day, may be the ticket to maintaining a healthy weight.
“This similarity in energy expenditure suggests that the human body can flexibly balance energy budgets in different contexts,” study author Samuel Urlacher, Ph.D., said in a release. “Ultimately, eating too much, not moving too little, may be at the core of long-term weight gain and the global nutrition transition that often begins during childhood.”
Whether or not diet is the true villain here when it comes to obesity, Urlacher makes it clear that exercise is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle, and who are we to disagree? Whether or not you’ve hit your goal physique, sticking to an exercise regimen can help keep your body running like a well-oiled machine, and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week to reap the benefits.
“Exercise remains critically important for health and for weight management given its effects on appetite, muscle mass, cardiopulmonary function and many other factors,” Urlacher said. “Our results don’t suggest otherwise. Everyone should meet recommended daily physical activity levels.”