Friday, June 03, 2005

"In the United States, even the Grim Reaper is flabby."

According to University of Missouri-Columbia biomedical researchers Frank Booth and Simon Lees, if the current trends continue, every U.S. child will be obese by 2044 and every adult by 2058.

Despite the endless ads on television and media hype of the latest diet fads, despite the latest research about the negative effects of obesity on Americans being public knowledge, & The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports efforts to promote the healthy effects of exercise, the rate of increase in overweight and obese Americans continues to climb.

"If all the work we are doing to promote physical fitness is working, than why does the problem continue to get worse," said Booth, who gave the Joseph B. Wolffe Memorial Lecture at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual conference today. "We have increased sedentary activities for children by 4.5 times since 1950. Children and adolescents now spend 45 hours each week watching television, working on the computer, playing video games or watching movies.

Booth believes the increase in obesity is due to an incompatibility between human genes and societal pressures. Human genes evolved to support a great deal of physical activity, yet in the last 20 years, physical activity has decreased dramatically in the United States, Booth said.

In a recent study using rats, Booth found that a 48-hour period of inactivity can lead to a large increase in the amount of fat and the size of fat cells in the body. In a similar study, Booth found that insulin sensitivity decreases when a body is inactive for two days. This decreased insulin efficiency may be a precursor to diabetes and other related diseases. Both studies were published in The Journal of Physiology.

Being fat and physically inactive now has a name: Sedentary Death Syndrome or "SeDS." Approximately 2.5 million Americans will die prematurely in the next ten years due to SeDS, a number greater than all alcohol, guns, motor vehicles, illicit drug use and sexual behavior related deaths combined. Research has identified SeDS as the second largest threat to public health (next to heart disease as the number one cause of death for Americans -- which is related, yes?).

All of this is expected to add as much as $3 trillion to healthcare costs over ten years -- this is more than twice the tax cut recently passed by the US Senate.

According to Booth, other problems associated with inactivity include:

* Earlier death Just 20 years ago, the U.S. population ranked first in longevity on the planet, but today, American women rank 19th and American men rank 28th.

* Earlier onset of adult, or Type 2, diabetes Increasing numbers of children are getting Type 2 diabetes & The Centers for Disease Control predicts that the number of Type 2 diabetes cases in the United States will triple to 39 million by 2050.

* Onset of different types of cancer Other medical research has linked inactivity to breast cancer, colon cancer & pancreatic cancer.

In his lecture, Booth challenged scientists and the public to enact a series of policies to counteract the inactivity problem.

"We scientists need to stop labeling control groups in our studies as those groups who are inactive," Booth said. "In studies today, researchers are examining the effects of exercise on a number of diseases. In effect, they are using sick people as the control group and using the people who exercise as the anomaly. This needs to change. The public also needs to start taking responsibility for childhood inactivity. Children are not mature enough to make informed decisions about their eating habits and activity without instruction from adults."

According to Booth, it takes only 10 unburned calories a day to produce a pound of weight in a year & decreasing the amount of activity by less than four minutes each day can result in a person gaining one pound of fat in a year.

Booth said fitness can be achieved by incorporating simple things into daily life -- for example, walking just 500 feet burns 10 calories. So by adding short walks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the dog rather than letting it out the back door & other simple activities we can make positive impacts.

All of these things can be done by & with children.

Additional reading:

Sedentary Death Syndrome? It's Real

New class teaches healthful lifestyle: The course at University of Missouri-Columbia will focus on the lifelong cost of not exercising regularly.

Exercise and gene expression: physiological regulation of the human genome through physical activity from Journal of Physiology (2002), 543.2, pp. 399-411

Frank W. Booth, Ph.D. contact information.
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