Is Inactivity Worse On Health Than Obesity?


HBO’s Veep fans may well remember Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ vice presidential character’s disdain when assigned to lead the administration’s feigned charge against the nation’s obesity epidemic. Selina’s comic desperation and disdain accurately mirrors the nation’s feelings of ambivalence and ignorance to the issue. Obesity is always someone else’s problem, even among the obese who (by majority) consistently fail to correlate their girth with existing obesity categorizations.


Obesity has been cast as the single greatest threat to the health of not only America but every single developed nation in the world. Unfortunately the facts are muddled as to the exact causes of obesity and the steps needed to reverse society’s course. However, obesity it seems is not public enemy number one – inactivity takes the top prize.


A new study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition adds a little more clarity to a dilemma that many are viewing with a fractured lens. The study found that inactivity was a much greater risk to society than obesity; responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity. They estimated that of 9.2 million European deaths 337,000 were caused by obesity and a whopping 676,000 deaths were due to inactive lifestyles in the same time frame. The good news (we always look for the good news) contained in the study out of the University of Cambridge is that a daily 20 minute walk could reduce the risk of an early death by as much as 30%.


So what is really to blame? Obesity? Inactivity? Diet? Genetics? Lifestyle? What really represents the largest risk to our health? The answer isn’t one or the other, the answer lies in the inter-relationship between them all.


Inactivity is a root cause of obesity. Obesity is a root cause of inactivity. Mix in a poor diet, lifestyle and stir with individual genetic disparities and you get a clearer picture of what is going on worldwide.


The is no one single answer. The Cambridge study is not the first by any means to call attention to the dangers of inactivity for everyone from thin to extra-large. Stanford University clearly showed in 2014 that America’s rising BMI’s (Body Mass Index) were a direct result of inactivity not a rise in caloric intakes.


Obese individuals breathed a sigh of release when they learned one could still be fat and metabolically fit  and reduce your risk of death with recent studies only to learn that this reprieve is short-lived at best.


Genetics play a role certainly. An individual’s genetic profile plays a role in how active or sedentary they are, how much or little food they consume, and their body types and sizes. The good news is that regular activity and proper diet has a tremendous impact on staying healthy even among the genetically challenged.


Genes are not a sentence handed out at birth – they constantly adapt according to how we live our lives. Consider an ABC News report last year on astonishing research which shows sitting may increase the number of body fat cells as much as 50% regardless of diet and exercise. That explains a lot to those who visit the gym regularly, eat right and spend 8-10 hours a day sitting in an office chair doesn’t it?


Obesity has been shown to cause more than 58 related chronic diseases yet there is just as high a chance that inactivity is as dangerous in contracting the leading chronic killers: heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. As an example inactivity has previously been shown to be the greatest risk factor for heart disease (the nation’s largest killer) in women over 30. This revelation came out of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Research on Exercise, Physical Activity and Health, School of Human Movement Studies The differences seemed more striking as women aged. For example women in their 70’s lowered their risk of heart disease more than 3x if they remained physically active versus smoking cessation.




A report entitled “F as in Fat” begins with the CDC’s 2014 findings that 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children (age: 2-19) are currently obese. The report extrapolated state by state statistics and predicted that no state will have an adult obesity rate less than 44% by 2030 and 13 states are predicted to exceed 60%. The report went on to say that at our current pace 50% of Americans will be obese within the next 15 years.


Michele Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign hit the nail on the head. We need to move more as a nation, much more and all of the recent data supports this position. The average American walks less than 5,000 steps per day which is half of the recommended minimum. At TrekDesk Treadmill Desk we think 10,000 steps a day is setting the bar too low. Not only do Americans need to move more they need to limit their “sedentary sessions” to no more than 30 minutes per day without at least a 5-10 minute activity break involving movement.

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