Poor Diet, Not Less Exercise, is Main Cause of Childhood Obesity
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2020 Aug 26
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on StudyFinds.
The coronavirus pandemic is keeping many children inside, adding to the perception that American kids don’t get enough exercise. Despite a more sedentary lifestyle, a study finds children from remote Amazonian tribes burn just as many calories as the average American youngster. According to Baylor University, this challenges current theories about the causes of obesity — saying the problem is likely a poor diet and not poor fitness.
Researchers say the forager-horticulturalist children in this study burnt their calories in many different ways than American children. Forty-four Shuar children, between the ages of five and 12, were compared to data on industrialized children in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
About 50,000 Shuar people live in the isolated Amazon region of Ecuador. They don’t have easy access to grocery stores and labor-saving technology. They subsist on fishing, hunting, foraging, and small-scale agriculture. The Baylor team gathered energetics data by using isotope-tracking and respirometry collection methods. It’s the first time this type of energetics data measurement is being used on a subsistence-based population.
Their results reveal that, despite Shuar children being about 25 percent more physically active, the total number of calories spent every day is indistinguishable from American children. Shuar children also have a 20 percent greater resting energy expenditure, mostly because of higher immune system activity.
“Conventional wisdom suggests that an increasingly sedentary and germ-free lifestyle, resulting in low daily energy expenditure, is a primary factor underlying rising rates of obesity in the U.S. and elsewhere,” study author Dr. Samuel Urlacher says in a university release. “The findings of our study challenge that notion. We demonstrate that Amazonian children with physically active lifestyles and chronic immunological challenges don’t actually burn more calories than much more sedentary children living here in the U.S.”
“This similarity in energy expenditure suggests that the human body can flexibly balance energy budgets in different contexts,” the assistant professor at Baylor adds. “Ultimately, eating too much, not moving too little, may be at the core of long-term weight gain and the global nutrition transition that often begins during childhood.”
The report shows that a higher degree of physical and immune activity may reduce the energy needed for growth, even when plenty of food is available. Therefore, the researchers argue, diet, not energy expenditure, is causing chronic weight gain and the global obesity epidemic.