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. A 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 improve consumer education about the dangers of a high-sugar diet and, if possible, eliminate the perception that we can eat whatever we want as long as we exercise enough. On average, Americans consume about 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 may impede healthy weight management. By limiting or avoiding sugar altogether, we may be able to move toward a healthier future.