You might not think of your fax machine as an enabler, but new research from the Mayo Clinic shows that convenience devices such as microwave ovens, remote controls, electric can openers, and e-mail collectively contribute to America’s love handles. According to a study by Dr. James Levine published in Science magazine, the mechanization of society — replacing physical tasks with machines — decreases physical activity. Over the day the absence of these chores accounts for a 100-200 calorie surplus, unused energy that "potentially could account for the entire obesity epidemic."
A similar study from the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that completing daily tasks without automated assistance (like drive-through car washes) increases monthly energy expenditure by as many as 8,800 additional calories — the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of body fat. During a 2002 meeting at the Mayo Clinic the study’s lead author, Steven N. Blair, said, "I think that inactivity is the major public-health problem of this century. Physical activity has been engineered out of daily life."
Defying the mounting research that fingers sedentary lifestyle as the main cause for obesity, organizations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) claim to address childhood obesity by "encourag[ing] food and beverage companies to offer healthier products and change their marketing practices."
But RWJF’s notion of "encouragement" includes funding food police groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest in order to push invasive measures like food bans, fat taxes, and food zoning. And in a press release today the foundation pledged $500 million to continue this ill-conceived fight.
If RWJF is serious about tackling obesity in kids, perhaps it should subsidize Dance Dance Revolution instead of food activists’ agendas.