Experts Debunk Seven Popular Obesity-Related Myths
January 31, 2013

Experts Debunk Seven Popular Obesity-Related Myths

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

With athletic facilities packing in the annual January wave of New Year´s resolution-inspired exercisers, many people are looking to shed a few extra pounds before the warmer weather allows them to start shedding clothing once again.

In a timely study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), an international team of physicians and dieticians has set out to debunk seven popular obesity-related myths–including the notion that sexual activity can substitute for a trip to the gym.

According to the scientists, individuals aren´t the only ones to blame for the proliferation of these weight-loss myths. They said that a lot of incorrect, but conventional wisdom is recited by physicians, academics, government officials and the media.

One of the biggest myths, according to the study, is that minor dietary changes and a slight uptick in physical activity can lead to weight loss over time. That idea is based on short-term studies the authors say, and in the long term the body learns to compensate for those slight alterations.

Another weight loss myth is the setting of realistic goals. While realistic goals might sound, um, realistic, some studies have shown that people who set the most ambitious goals achieve the most success.

Despite media stories to the contrary, the researchers found the physical education classes do not impact long-term BMI on a consistent basis. However, they did note that physical education does help battle obesity.

Do babies who breastfeed fare better than their counterparts who do not with respect to obesity? Not according to the study. The researchers cited a clinical trial involving 13,000 children that covered a six-year time span and found “no compelling evidence” that breastfeeding prevents obesity. They did say that breastfeeding conveys a multitude of other benefits and should be done anyway.

When it comes to weight loss–“slow and steady wins the race,” right? Not exactly, says the study. Some clinical trials have found that people who jump-start their weight loss with 800 or 1,200 calorie-a-day diets have the most long-term success.

Speaking of slow and steady, the researchers set out to debunk the myth that sexual activity burns over 100 calories. According to CBC News, one Toronto woman they recently interviewed said that burning calories while having sex "depends who's doing all the work."

Sex as exercise is unrealistic, “given that the average bout of sexual activity lasts about 6 minutes,” the authors wrote, according to LA Times. According to the study, the typical ℠exercise session´ is equivalent to a brisk walk, during which a man in his mid-30s might burn around 20 calories.

While the story will no doubt make headlines, like the one above, critics were quick to point out that many of the report's authors may have a conflict of interest as they have financial connections to food, beverage, and weight-loss product makers. It should be noted that the authors´ disclosures comprise half a page of fine print in the journal.

"It raises questions about what the purpose of this paper is" Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition and food studies told ABC News.