The Ever-Changing Reputation of Exercise

Dr. Pretlow says,

Obesity is neither a poor nutrition nor lack of exercise problem. It appears to result from eating for reasons other than hunger, for simple pleasure, and as a coping mechanism for relief from sadness, stress, anxiety, and boredom.

The food industry promotes physical activity as a solution for obesity.

Now, why is that, exactly? For starters, the psychologists who make a career of selling their souls to corporate interests are very aware that most people are caught up in the delusion of dichotomy. We don’t have time to think about a lot of complicated matters. To simplify things, we narrow it down to either/or. In the either/or mindset, obesity is the result of either not doing enough physical exertion, or eating the wrong stuff.

When people consider the question of “What is the wrong stuff?” the visions that spring to mind are of chicken nuggets, quart-sized soft drink cups, potato chips, sugary breakfast cereal, and so on. In other words, all the substances that the people who work in the processed foods business are tasked with selling to the public.

Since there are, ostensibly, only two options — either stop eating their junk, or get more exercise, the solution is obvious. They exhort us to exercise more. If we don’t do enough pushups to equalize the doughnuts, it’s our own fault — but also, gloriously, our problem to solve.

Big Food and Big Soda have locked in on what they hope is a winning strategy: Convince the public that every ounce of obesity is caused by the customers themselves, who do not have enough sense to exercise for hours every day. The corporations are heavily invested in propagating the belief that we deserve every fat roll, because we are lazy slobs who simply refuse to work off the calories that we consume in their irreproachable, unimpeachable products.

Historical ups and downs

About 10 years ago, the EarlyBird Diabetes Study upset the applecart by suggesting that everyone got it backwards, all those years. Actually, a sedentary lifestyle is not the cause of obesity — on the contrary, obesity causes the sedentary lifestyle. Journalist Tiffany O’Callaghan related how the researchers saw things:

The study authors posit that a combination of embarrassment and discomfort may deter children from getting exercise, and suggest the findings point to a need to shift more attention to nutrition — and put less emphasis on exercise — when it comes to battling childhood obesity.

A couple of years later, 20 authors collaborated on figuring out what really works for public health, policy, or clinical recommendations. Their study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that exercise, as currently practiced, does not much matter.

Ranging widely, through areas of knowledge, they studied both myths and “facts that are well supported by evidence.” One of the myths they identified was that physical education classes in schools are effective. But rather…

Physical education, as typically provided, has not been shown to reduce or prevent obesity. Two meta-analyses showed that even specialized school-based programs that promoted physical activity were ineffective in reducing BMI or the incidence or prevalence of obesity.

The authors concede that while some combination of frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise might produce a synergy that can prevent or reduce obesity, we are certainly not there yet.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Which comes first, inactivity or childhood obesity?,”, 07/07/10
Source: “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity,”, 01/31/13
Image by K. W. Barrett/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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