You might have read or heard about the brouhaha concerning the August 17th TIME magazine cover article titled, “The Myth About Exercise.” In it the author claimed that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight and may even cause you to gain weight. Oh my!!
The American College of Sports Medicine immediately sent out a press release to rebut the assertions made in the article. “The statement ‘in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless’ is not supported by the scientific evidence when there is adherence to a sufficient dose of physical activity in overweight and obese adults” stated John Jakicic, Ph.D., FACSM one of the lead authors on ACSM’s position stand on physical activity in weight management. Click here to access this important position paper.
Dr. Tim Church, Professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was heavily quoted in the article. Or rather, misquoted. After the story broke, he wrote an open letter to TIME magazine, stating, “I found the story to be full of gross inaccuracies and misleading statements, and the premise, as introduced by the title, entirely wrong.”
One of Dr. Church’s recent studies1 was mentioned in the article. In the study, women who exercised at a high level did not lose the amount of weight they were expected to lose based on their caloric expenditure. Church and colleagues were not exactly certain why this happened but felt that the women might have been consciously or unconsciously eating more than when they started the study. Or perhaps there was a physiologic change that compensated calorically for the extra calories burned. Dr. Church and others need more time to tease this out. In the meantime, remember that while some women in this study did gain weight, on average, the group lost weight.
So the journalist twisted the study results and said that exercise causes you to eat more and thus, will sabotage your weight loss efforts. But in his letter to TIME, Church stated, “The majority of people lose weight in response to exercise training even when no dietary advice is provided…The main point we are trying to make when addressing ‘compensation’ is that regular exercise is not a license to eat anything you want.”
So what’s going on here? It’s a classic example of a journalist cherry-picking the science to create a sensationalistic/provocative story that will sell magazines. Well, telling people not to exercise if you want to lose weight will (and did) get people’s attention. Unfortunately, readers got an eyefull of inaccuracies. Dr. Church was told by a health reporter that “it will take 10 years to undo the damage of this particular article.” He – and we – hope not.
Did you see the TIME article and if so, what did you think about it? Comment below.
1 Church TS, et al. Changes in weight, waist circumference and compensatory responses with different dosesof exercise among sedentary, overweight postmenopausal women. PLoS ONE 2009;(42):e4515. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004515.