For decades we’ve been told how important it is to exercise if we want to lose weight—but we may not be getting the whole story. While staying active plays an important role in disease prevention and overall health, it turns out it is not the main factor in the fight against obesity. That title is reserved for sugar, according to a new report.
The report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, points out that sugar and carbohydrates are the biggest culprits contributing to the sharp rise in obesity among Americans and those in similarly developed countries—and that even vigorous exercise will not offset the consequences of a high-sugar diet.
To make their case, researchers called attention to the fact that while obesity rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, our physical activity levels have remained pretty much the same. In other words, we’re not doing anything drastically different, but we’re still getting heavier. What has changed, however, is our diet—mainly the overload of sugar-laden processed foods introduced in the last few decades. The excess sugar and carbs pose a bigger risk than alcohol, tobacco use, and a lack of exercise combined, says the report.
Study authors spotlight the need to do a better job of educating consumers about the dangers of a high-sugar diet and, if possible, eliminating the perception that we can eat whatever we want as long as we exercise enough. Once again, we are reminded that the quality of the calories we eat is just as important—if not more so—than the quantity.
The bottom line is this: the body does not need nearly as much sugar as it gets from the Standard American Diet. Still, Americans consume at least 37 teaspoons of sugar daily (including the hidden sugars from starchy carbohydrates), which studies show can alter the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and actually cause us to hold on to excess weight. By breaking free of our sugar addiction, we may be able to turn the tables on obesity and move toward a healthier future.