Eating Too Much Is Still Why You're Fat, Despite All That Jogging

Waistlines are growing even as exercise levels increase. Here’s why.

The good news: Americans are exercising more. The bad news: it’s not doing much to reduce obesity rates.

A new study from the University of Washington reveals that the level of women exercising "sufficiently" in the U.S. rose from 50.7% to 59.2% between 2001 and 2011, while the exercise level among men climbed from 59.4% to 61.3%. But in the vast majority of counties, waistlines kept increasing.

The study, which is based on hundreds of thousands of responses collected by the Centers for Disease Control, found only nine counties where obesity levels decreased: five for men, four for women. Overall, one percentage point increase in physical activity led to only 0.11% lower prevalence of obesity.

The researchers say exercise is necessary, but not sufficient to curb obesity, which affects up to one third of Americans. Diet may be as important. "Other changes such as reduction in caloric intake are likely needed to curb the obesity epidemic and its burden," they conclude.

Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and California had the largest gains in activity. Among the top 10 most improved counties, Kentucky had six for men, and seven for women. Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, and Denver, were also big climbers. Levels of physical activity were generally lowest along the Texas-Mexico border, and in parts of the deep South.

Obesity levels vary widely. In 2011, the highest levels among women were in Issaquena County, Mississippi (59.3%), and, for men, in Owsley County, Kentucky (46.9%). The lowest levels for women were in Falls Church City, Virginia (17.6%), and for men, San Francisco County, California (18.3%).

Given the lack of impact from increased exercise, the researchers suggest that counties try other approaches, like better food labeling, taxing harmful products, and improving incentive programs.

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  • Davis Rivas

    "Eat too much and you'll get fat", it's so fundamentally common sense; I can't believe some people are still in denial.

    1. Look at those actors that gain 100+ lbs to do movie roles and then lost those pounds just as easily. I guess actors must have the super genes.

    2. White people must have really bad genes then, because if you go to Asia, there are hardly any fat Asians.

    3. If you don't eat much, exercise and still gain weight, then apparently you can metabolize fat out of thin air. It's a miracle!.......NOT. The simple answer would be that most obese people greatly underestimate the amount of Calories they consumed (up to 50% error).

    4. I have yet to heard of or seen a fat person die of starvation. Go to 'google image' search and type in "starvation"; do you see any fat people?

    5. Correction: DENIAL is the reason you're still fat.

  • therightway40

    Researchers at Florida State University College of Medicine revealed that issues like binging is are not solved with will power. Binging or late night snacking is rooted in the emotions. 

    Emotional triggers activate brain hormones creating the desire to eat even when not hungry. Here http://helpbingeeating.blogspo...

  • dougmore

    I don't know how the U of Washington determined that around 60% of men and women exercise "sufficiently" - I think that is ridiculous. Only a small percentage of people (perhaps single digits), in my opinion, exercise sufficiently.

    I also think some of the commenters under-estimate the importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy weight. It is relatively easy to lose weight in the short term solely by reducing caloric intake, but your body fights you by slowing your metabolism in response to fewer calories. Without steps to increase metabolism, in the long term the same, reduced caloric intake results in weight gain back toward the original starting point. A regular exercise program that includes both strength and cardio exercises is necessary to boost metabolism sufficiently to maintain a healthy weight unless you are one of a pretty small minority of genetically fortunate people. 

  • therightway40

    Most of our obesity today is caused by inflammation, processed foods and food chemicals cause inflammatory weight gain, this can be genetically passed on to children.

    People are not losing weight cause of inflammation from processed foods.
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  • CanadianCorner.ca

    I have spend a lot of time exercising hard and not losing any weight because of my diet. Totally agree with this article that diet is super important to achieve weight loss. 

  • Craig Cherlet

    Weight loss is almost 90% diet and 10% activity. It's why you can lose weight by changing just what you put in your body. Exercise can definitely speed up the process though.

  • Craig Cherlet

    My wife and I became vegetarian/vegan(90% vegan) when our daughter was born 3 months ago. We don't eat meat, chicken, fish, cheese and have reduced our gluten intake as well. The only exercise we get is chasing around our 20 month old and going for a short 30 to 60 min walk 5-6 days a week.

    We have eliminated processed foods cause we simply don't consider them foods anymore. In our mind, these processed foods are products, not food. Their primary goal was and is to make money, not provide the most nutrients to the body regardless of what their marketing message says. 

    The foods that provide the most nutrients to the body are called fruits, vegetables, legumes, spices, nuts and seeds and the human body can thrive on these and these alone. It's all about going back to basics. Eat what people would have eaten before the industrial agriculture revolution and you will notice your health change in a matter of weeks. Garbage in, garbage out.

    The results: I've lost 15 pounds in the 3 months and my wife over 30(pregnancy weight included).
    We feel amazing, don't have the cravings we used to and pretty mush eliminated the sugar spikes and crashes that come from crappy foods.

    One thing to note is that our food choice options have been dramatically reduced which in our opinion is a good thing. Less options makes choosing much easier, less stressful and like the saying goes, less is more. 

  • Derek

    Craig, I love the way that you and your wife view foods now: "...processed foods are products, not foods". Such an interesting, and rather simplified, way to view food that never dawned on me. 
    Thanks for the great comment!

  • Andrew Teichner

    Human engineered food for human engineered devices.

    Nature engineered food for nature engineered devices

  • Chris Reich

    The premise is wrong. Exercise IS enough to reduce weight
    UNLESS exercise is off-set by increased caloric intake.

    And, even then, there is a shift toward the positive and as overweight fit
    person is still better than a sedentary over-weight person. Take victories
    wherever you can get them.

  • Bwh84

    I believe actual experts in this field, e.g. lipidology, disagree with you completely. You're propagating this spurious and incorrect myth concerning obesity that is refuted very clearly in the following link I'm posting at the end of this reply. Note* the author himself is not an expert in lipidology, and instead references said experts (Gary Taubes, etc.) 


    Do yourself a favor, and read "Why We Get Fat, And What We Can Do About It" or "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and stop spreading this nonsense. 

  • Martin Pazzani

    People self-reporting that they get enough exercise is not an accurate stat. Behavioral research shows the opposite, a decline in exercise and activity. Sure diet is important, but we are a remarkably inactive and unfit country now.

  • Kerri

    To lose weight it's 80% diet, what you want your body to look like when the weight is off is all exercise.

  • Bwh84

    Correct! Read Gary Taubes "Why We Get Fat" or "Good Calories, Bad Calories" for a fundamental understanding of our fat regulatory mechanisms, and thus how we gain or lose fat. You'll see it has very little to do with exercise or calories, and everything to do with what you eat. 

  • Marc Posch

    I wish people would come to their senses and understand that everything that's processed and precooked or stuffed in fancy boxes is engineered food and it's making us fat. All that junk is loaded with hidden sugar, fat and salt and designed to buy more. Don't buy into fancy health claims! Buy your own vegetables and prepare meals from scratch - and enjoy the process - it's the only way out of over saturated, over sugared food like substances - and obesity. 

  • Amanda

    This is why, as obnoxious as it can sometimes be, I'm totally ok with using a calorie tracker app to help keep track of my caloric intake. It's amazing how easy it can be to go over the recommended number for maintaining my totally healthy weight!