Here’s the latest skinny on obesity from Harvard researchers

The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard researchers have done some very interesting studies on weight training and controlling obesity. They found that because aging is associated with sarcopenia, that is loss of skeletal muscle, just doing aerobic exercises is insufficient to keep the pounds off and stay healthy. They note that measuring the waist circumference is one of the best indicators of a healthy body composition among aging adults, and that combining resistance training with aerobic exercise or even just engaging in resistance exercise helps adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or at least preserving muscle mass. The Harvard study was a 12-year study with over 10,000 participants and it clearly indicated that weight training is key in keeping the waistline trim, and is more effective than simply doing aerobic exercise.

Another paper published by the Harvard School of Public Health notes that progress in the war on global obesity is unacceptably slow. Experts state that although they acknowledge that individuals must take responsibility for their own food and exercise choices, that today’s food industry exploit people’s vulnerabilities and make it easier to make unhealthy choices. One of the articles on the global obesity crisis call attention to the rise of childhood obesity which is not just significant in high income countries but is on the rise in poorer nations as well. The authors of that paper call for tighter regulations on advertising to children in addition to integrated nutritional policies that tackle obesity and malnutrition which exist in children worldwide. Authors of various papers on the subject support policy changes that regulate food/nutritional labeling, advertising restrictions, supply-chain incentives for production, and behavior-change communications including nutritional counseling, interventions and public awareness.

A speaker at the Forum at Harvard School of Public Health stated that children are being exploited, and that much of the blame for the obesity epidemic should rest at the feet of food industry researchers who have perfected tastes of prepared “foods” as well as their packaging and advertising.

The alarming statistics show that 17 percent of America’s children are obese and a new category has been termed “severely obese” in which another 5 percent of American children are categorized.

Other contributing factors to the rise of obesity is that families generally do not eat just at mealtimes or may not even have structured mealtimes. Americans may sit in the front of the computer, TV or other screen and just eat rather than sitting down to a structured meal. The amount of time that children and adults spend interacting with screened devices has risen to more than seven hours a day. However, the experts at Harvard emphasize that it is the television time with focused attention and exposure to food advertising and mindless eating that is a key obesity factor.

An associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health notes that although the media has often cited that sedentary lifestyles are the major contributing factor for the obesity epidemic, he contends that people are no less active than they were in the 1970s, before the epidemic began to escalate, however the changes in the American diet since the 1980s is to blame.

Since the 1980s, portion sizes have increased, and the consumption of sugary drinks has skyrocketed. A notion in the 1980s was that consuming too much fat would make one fat and so people reduced their fat intake and increased their carbohydrate intake. Unfortunately many of the carbohydrates that people now consume are simple carbohydrates (sugar and refined carbohydrates, or high fructose corn syrup) which deposit as fat readily on the mid-section of the body.

Experts at the school reject that notion that genetics play a significant role in the global obesity epidemic (I don’t buy it either). They note that by and large, our grandparents and great-grandparents were not obese, and in their generations the obesity rates were one-third of what they are today.

Human genes don’t change that rapidly — this is an environmental challenge, not a genetic one.

The bottom line in avoiding and fighting obesity is to exercise in a strategic way that incorporates both aerobic and resistance training, and avoid “foods” that contain too much salt, sugar, fat and chemicals by focusing on natural clean organic food that is nutritious.

The experts at Harvard all agree that restrictions and regulations of the “food” industry advertising is pivotal and that without those changes not much improvement in the statistics will happen.

Are we really that gullible and influenced by the large corporations ad campaigns (perhaps children are) or can we still know our own minds and bodies and make the right choices for ourselves? As one of my clients joked with me, he says he asks himself when making lifestyle choices; “What would Jane do?”


Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser. She can be reached at, (808) 212-1451.


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