Thursday, May 04, 2006

Today is Project ACES Day - Another misguided effort in the war on obesity.

I can't tell you how frustrated I get when events such as Project ACES are touted as soldiers in the fight against obesity.

Started by Len Saunders, a New Jersey schoolteacher in 1989 Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously) involves trying to get children across the world exercising for 15 minutes simultaneously.

Going to the Project ACES website it promotes itself as making, "fitness fun for kids", "promoting health and nutrition", "promoting sport and exercise", and "supporting physical education", and there is no doubt in my mind that all of those are worthy, wonderful and achievable goals for the Project.

You know what's not an achievable goal? Having 15 minutes of exercise a day put a dent in childhood obesity rates. Yet the AP describes Project ACES this way, "Students in all 50 states and at least 50 other countries were urged to exercise en masse for 15 minutes Wednesday, all to curb alarming rates of childhood obesity."

So why is it not reasonable to report Project ACES as an obesity intervention? Quite simply, exercise does not burn that many calories.

In fact I would argue that were the Canadian and American governments successful at getting every last citizen to exercise 30 minutes a day it would actually lead to North Americans growing even larger because then everyone would feel justified in rewarding their exercise with food. They would feel justified because our governments and countless allied health organizations constantly present the misguided notion that exercise alone is enough to lead to weight loss or prevent weight gain.

Fact is 30 minutes per day of exercise probably burns no more than 250 calories. Reward exercise with food 3 times a week and kiss 30 minutes of even daily exercise goodbye. It takes well over an hour of vigourous exercise to work off one Big Mac or a bag of potato chips.

If we are to succeed in preventing the rise of obesity in our countries, the focus has to be on food and more specifically on calories.

I can't tell you how many patients I've seen who've said to me, "I shouldn't be this weight because I exercise a lot", or, "It doesn't make sense because I only eat healthy food."

Obesity prevention, fitness and healthy eating are all extremely important determinants of health. To lump them all together as one effort takes away from the importance of each in our health and discourages those who "eat healthy" and "exercise" but don't lose weight, from ever trying.