The notion that if you don’t exercise, you get fat does not seem the basis for scientific study because the answer is obvious.
But looking under the headlines, a new study from LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center points out the dimensions of an issue that is important worldwide but incredibly so in Louisiana.
The insight gleaned from the study is that, while diet and exercise play major roles in health, “physical activity makes an even bigger impact on children’s weight than we previously thought,” said Peter Katzmarzyk, an author of the study in the international journal Obesity. “This study shows that obesity cannot be explained away by culture, class or status, and these research results reinforce the need for kids to engage in play time and other forms of physical activity each day.”
The challenge of television and the gaming screen for American kids is one thing, but the giant study — international in scope and involving children in poorer and wealthier countries — showed that lack of exercise is a concern that crosses many lines of class, race or family situation. This research assessed associations between lifestyle behaviors and childhood obesity in a multinational setting, surveying both high- and low-income children.
Researchers collected data from more than 6,000 children between ages 9 and 11 from 12 countries, varying from Brazil to Kenya to the United Kingdom and United States. Previously, most of the data on obesity came from the wealthier countries.
What the text shows is, far beyond the obvious connection between lack of activity and weight, is that the temptations toward physical laziness in youth are universal enough to give pause to those in public health who want to pin the problem on one behavior peculiar to, or one particular condition in, a rich or a poor society. Or, for that matter one particular solution like turning off the television.
The results “reinforce the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles among children as an obesity prevention strategy across different cultures and environments.” Easier said than done, as any parent of a pre-teen can tell you. But Katzmarzyk said it’s also important to have the baseline data in this study to dispel notions that one factor — say, changing diet instead of exercising — can be a panacea for obesity.
What this study also illustrates, though, is how much Pennington’s researchers take the lead in dealing with a crisis that not only has implications for Louisiana’s children but those across the world. The Pennington study included researchers from major institutions from Helsinki, Finland, to Tianjin, China. This study helps document foundational knowledge about the breadth of growing children’s bottoms, but also it reinforces the key role that Pennington has carved out in international scientific inquiry.