Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

Standing on Solid Ground Against Obesity

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that researchers are examining the effectiveness of a new change to classrooms: stand-up desks. Not only might the new design help fidgety kids pay attention, but it could help all kids stay active and burn more calories. In an age where only five states require phys-ed from grades K through 12, changes in the classroom to keep kids moving could certain help battle childhood weight gain. Researchers keeping track of the data plan to publish their results in October.

One of them, Mayo Clinic professor of medicine James Levine, has a history of looking to change small things to inspire large results. He calls the rise in obesity rates a “sitting disease” and advocates making tiny changes in our lifestyles—from parking a few blocks away from the office to pacing while on the phone—in order to increase what he calls “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” or NEAT.

Reductions in NEAT, which we detail in Small Choices, Big Bodies, have occurred over the past few decades as automated machines replace manual tasks, like driving to work instead of walking. Levine calculates that we could be burning 1,500 to 2,400 more through the little things. For school kids, improving NEAT might just come from different desks.

And also from the physical activity sphere, a forthcoming study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that neighborhood safety is a key factor in promoting physical activity and healthy weight. Researchers from the University of Illinois tracked over 12,000 kids over a three-year period and determined that teens who can safely move around are, well, much more likely to be active. It only makes sense—no parents would let their kids walk around a high-crime area.

This new study appears to build on the findings of research published last year from Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis. That research determined that living near parks and recreational facilities lowers children’s body mass index. Of course, proximity to parks doesn’t matter if drug deals and homicides occur in them.

So are stand-up desks and increasing police patrols the solution to obesity? Maybe. Levine is ultimately optimistic, telling the Associated Press: “I'm one of these people that's 100 percent positive the obesity epidemic can end.” He’s right—if policymakers focus on the right areas. Trying to tax foods and drinks to make Americans lose weight might be politically convenient and an easy out, but successfully fighting obesity will ultimately lie elsewhere.

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