Not So Fast: Only One Hour of Exercise Per Year?

Women with obesity only get one hour of exercise per year! That’s the sensational headline that some ordinarily respectable media outlets plucked from an obscure statistic in a methods study this week. gets credit for calling the foul.

In fact, the study at the center of these sensational headlines was designed to validate a method for calculating energy requirements and physical activity ratios. It’s pretty dense reading, but important stuff if you want to get good measures of physical activity. The investigators calculated estimates of physical activity levels based on NHANES data from 2005-06. The primary conclusion of the study is that their method works.

Nowhere in the study will you find the headline statistic of only one hour of exercise per year for women with obesity. That was an extrapolation from a single number buried in a table deep within the manuscript.

The authors of the paper went to lengths to point out the limited scope of this study. They noted that the measurements were only done over a period of 4-7 days and that the accelerometers only capture certain kinds of activity.

This one hour of exercise factoid serves two purposes. It grabs some attention for news outlets that aren’t fussy about the truth. And it helps to feed weight bias, reinforcing a false stereotype that people with obesity are lazy.

The real truth here is that Americans across the board don’t get enough physical activity for systematic reasons beyond the control of any individual. Everyone can and should find ways to improve their health by building pleasurable activity into their days.

But that was lost in the spin and din caused by a sensational headline.

Click here to read more from the and here to read the study that started all this hubub.

Metro Clock, photograph © Dave Stokes / flickr

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