While many people rely on regular exercise to “balance out” the effects of a diet heavy in carbs and sugar, that approach may not be enough to fight off obesity and diabetes, some experts are now saying.
While regular exercise does reduce your risk for diabetes(1), some researchers believe that diet is the main factor in obesity and diabetes risk, rather than physical inactivity.
Diet Makes An Impact – Even Without Weight Loss
A recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine outlines the reasons why you can’t simply outrun the health effects of a bad diet:
“A large econometric analysis of worldwide sugar availability revealed that for ever excess 150 calories of sugar, there was an 11-fold increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, in comparison to an identical 150 calories obtained from fat or protein. And this was independent of the person’s weight and physical activity level,” the editorial authors write(2).
“A recently published critical review in nutrition concluded that dietary carbohydrate restriction is the single most effective intervention for reducing all the features of the metabolic syndrome and should be the first approach in diabetes management, with benefits occurring even without weight loss.”
Who Benefits From Promoting Exercise Over Diet?
The editorial authors place the blame for “an unhelpful message about maintaining a healthy weight through calorie counting” on the shoulders of major players in the fast food and beverage industries.
Coca Cola in particular has sunk billions of dollars into a marketing campaign associating their products with physical activity, “suggesting it is ok to consume their drinks as long as you exercise.”
However, the authors feel that this message is “misleading and wrong.”
Clarifying The Public Health Message
Ultimately, the researchers stress, it is important for consumers to know where their calories come from. Lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables are preferable calorie sources to simple carbohydrates and refined sugars.
They’re not the only ones calling for a more nuanced understanding of calorie consumption and exercise. In an article from the International Journal of Epidemiology, two other researchers clarify that “physical activity does not influence obesity risk”(3):
“Over the past 3 decades the obesity epidemic has spread inexorably across societies in all parts of the globe… Recent work by nutrition scientists and economists has led to the formulation of an increasingly sophisticated explanatory model of this latest scourge – based on solid data – which is firmly rooted in traditional public health theory: ‘Changes in the global food system, including reductions in the time-cost of food, seem to be the major drivers of the rise of the global obesity epidemic during the past 3-4 decades’.”
Cut The Carbs
Recent research backs up their call for more public health campaigns focusing on diet rather than exercise: a recent study in the journal Nutrition states that dietary carbohydrate restriction should be the primary fundamental approach in the prevention of type 2 diabetes(4).
Other researchers suggest that when it comes to athletes, fat loading instead of carbohydrate loading prior to exercise may be better for you(5).
The message is clear: while there are many health benefits to exercise, relying on it for obesity and diabetes prevention without any dietary changes is just not effective.