In anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games in London, the U.K. medical journal The Lancet is running a series of papers on physical activity and public health. We’ve advocated for an approach to health policy that doesn’t show a single-minded focus on diet, so this is an encouraging development. The headline paper, co-authored by researchers from Harvard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other institutions, found that physical inactivity is the cause of up to five million deaths worldwide each year. Agence France-Presse reports:
[The] study, comparing physical activity levels with population statistics on diseases like diabetes, heart problems and cancer, said lack of exercise claimed more than 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008.
And it turns out that we were on to something with our Small Choices, Big Bodies report that showed the cumulative effects of small lifestyle changes on physical activity and health. With studies showing that “jobs requiring moderate physical activity have all but disappeared,” two Lancet editors note in an editorial:
[Physical activity] is not about running on a treadmill, whilst staring at a mirror and listening to your iPod. It is about using the body that we have in the way it was designed, which is to walk often, run sometimes, and move in ways where we physically exert ourselves regularly whether that is at work, at home, in transport to and from places, or during leisure time in our daily lives.
We don’t expect these statistics on the lack of physical activity to change the food-first focus of the “public health” activists who would rather complain about soft drinks or Girl Scout cookies. After all, studies that showed that “continuing physical activity and regular checks on body weight” were the leading methods to sustain weight loss and that being physically fit for every given weight group was protective against early death weren’t enough to ease the pressure on our plates (and cups).
No, activists who say that “society does not have the luxury to await scientific certainty” before adopting Twinkie taxes have other, more intrusive and less viable solutions than fighting couch potato-itis. Kelly Brownell (author of that revealing quote) thinks cookies are tasty heroin. Robert Lustig thinks cookies are tasty poison, and should be regulated like alcohol. But hey, if these people get their way, physical activity may very well increase. Protest marches count as exercise, right?