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Color Me Suspicious

Another article at MSNBC today said 66% of people are completely or somewhat satisfied with the physical appearance. I can’t help but be suspisious about this study. Did they only interview fat people or are a lot of those satisfied people slim? I don’t think the diet industry would be so successful if so many people were really happy with their physical health.

The only interesting point raised is that since obesity is rising it may also be becoming an accepted norm.

Article after the jump.

Couch potato contentment

Unfit and overweight OK by many, survey suggests

By Jacqueline Stenson

Contributing editor


Updated: 12:53 p.m. ET Feb. 8, 2005

Americans know exercise is good for their health. Yet many are overweight, out-of-shape couch potatoes — and that seems to be just fine with a lot of them, suggests a new nationwide fitness survey.

Seventy percent of respondents said they were completely or somewhat satisfied with their physical health and 66 percent said the same about their physical appearance, according to the survey, commissioned by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), an industry trade group in Boston.

And just over half (52 percent) of the more than 1,400 people polled last September said they were generally satisfied with the amount of exercise they get.

But federal health statistics show that most Americans aren’t getting very much: Two-thirds are not physically active on a regular basis and a quarter get practically no exercise at all.

Sedentary lifestyles are a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic, and a full two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese.

Expanding waistlines the accepted norm?

The findings suggest that while most Americans are overweight and sedentary, many of them aren’t all that bothered by it, says Bill Howland, director of research at IHRSA.

“I wonder if Americans walk around and see other people who are overweight and not physically active and that’s becoming an accepted norm,” he says. “That’s alarming if that is in fact happening.”

Still, Americans do know exercise is good for them, results indicated. Eighty-seven percent of those polled said they believe exercise plays a major role in health.

“There’s a big disconnect,” says Howland.

“We’ve got to get the behavior to match the beliefs,” he says.

Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit fitness group in San Diego, says getting Americans moving is clearly easier said than done.

“We’re just passively sitting back and letting this inactive lifestyle become the accepted way,” he says.

Part of the problem, according to Bryant, is that Americans view physical activity as an “event” — one game of tennis or one trip to the gym — rather than “the manner in which one lives.”

Our great-grandparents didn’t go jogging and take aerobics classes and yet they didn’t have the weight problems of today either, he notes. A big difference is that they were more active throughout the day.

Technology that makes our lives easier — everything from self-propelled lawn mowers to computers — can also make us more sedentary, Bryant says. (Wearing a pedometer to count steps is one way to become more aware of daily activity, he says. Health experts often advise aiming for 10,000 steps each day.)

The danger is that people frustrated with failed weight-loss efforts will just give up because they feel it’s hopeless, Bryant says.

Abracadabras and Sitcom Skeptics

Indeed, some people appear to be waiting for that magic bullet for weight loss.

The survey, which categorized respondents into six fitness profiles, identified 17 percent as “Abracadabras”: people who are out of shape and would prefer to take a magic pill to slim down.

“I firmly believe that if exercise could be packaged in a pill it would be the most widely prescribed pill the world’s ever seen,” Bryant says. (Don’t hold your breath though.)

Another 12 percent of survey respondents were classified as “Sitcom Skeptics,” people who pride themselves on not falling for the fitness craze. Thirteen percent were “Woulda-Shouldas,” who understand the importance of exercise but still don’t do it as often as they should.

On a positive note, 15 percent of respondents were “Conscientious Preventors,” those who exercise regularly to stave off health problems and 15 percent were “Balanced Holistics,” who exercise for their health and well-being.

Another 28 percent fell into the category of “Social Competitors,” who enjoy group activities for the fun and comraderie. Many would exercise more if they had the time.

The survey also found that people who belong to gyms are more likely than those who don’t to be active — physically and socially — and to say they are “in control” of their lives.

While the number of health clubs across the country is increasing, the survey offered some insights into why some people won’t step foot in them: 48 percent of respondents believe health clubs are mostly for people who are already physically fit, 43 percent say clubs are mostly for young people, and 35 percent say they are just pick-up joints.

Smart Fitness appears the second Tuesday of each month.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

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1 Comment

Dana • July 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I don’t buy the explanation for there being more fat people now.

Part of it is that the definition of “proper weight” has changed over the years. The BMI tables, anyway, were invented by the insurance industry. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as fat people and it’s certainly plausible that there are more overweight people than there used to be, if there were an absolute standard for “normal weight” versus “overweight.” But that’s just the problem–there is no absolute standard.

Part of it is that the difference in activity levels doesn’t explain much. I started out (well, after infancy, anyway) in the normal weight range. When I went into the Army in 1992, I lost weight in basic training. I did not need to lose any weight in basic training; I had been about 130 to 135 and got down to 124 at five foot six. (I’m medium build, too, to give you an idea.) But that was extreme exercise in an extreme situation. Our ancestors with less tech who worked more physically were accustomed to that level of work; it wasn’t exactly burning off extra weight.

And there were fat people back then. Frederick Banting is a good example. But he figured out it was what he was eating, not his physical activity level, that was the problem. He stopped eating sweets and breads and watched his weight drop off–and, I mean, this was a guy who was fat by today’s standards. He was at least in the upper 200s. His weight-loss program was so effective that he wrote a pamphlet about it that sold like hotcakes, and for a while the term to bant was the vernacular for “to diet.” As far as I’m aware he did not institute major changes in his activity level.

I have also found that I can lose without changing mine if I just change what I eat–not how much, except I might actually eat more in the course of my day. Just changing quality, not much on quantity. No marathons. No aerobics. No huge weight training workouts. Nada.

I think that of people who do lose weight that way, I’d want to see their bone mass and muscle mass measured in some way to see if that’s what they’re actually losing. I’ve heard some pretty convincing arguments that that is the case. I’ve heard other convincing arguments that being in a near-constant state of elevated activity, as the experts seem to be suggesting as a weight-loss panacea, actually communicates to your body that it is in constant danger and can mess up your hormonal and metabolic balance and maybe even shorten your life.

Think about it. Running all the time might tell your body that it’s constantly being chased by tigers. That kind of biological “news” can be a threat in more ways than one.

And if they’ll say we don’t have to be in a near-constant state of elevated activity, rather that it should be something like twenty minutes a day three times a week–well, that’s not going to make any difference, and it doesn’t compare at all to doing manual labor six or seven days a week because they haven’t invented the Speed Queen or the vacuum cleaner yet and you still have to walk everywhere because there are no cars.

So… yeah. Not convinced. Exercise has some benefit, but you have to know what you’re doing and what works and what’s bogus. You should Google for Fred Hahn and see what he has to say–it’s very interesting. (He’s the “Slow Burn” guy.)


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