Recognizing that many of the studies finding beneficial weight loss due to exercise were not well controlled, researchers at the University of Texas conducted the Heritage Family Study. Led by Jack H. Wilmore, Ph.D., they put over 500 men and women on a 20-week endurance training program. While concluding that exercise can induce favorable changes, the study admitted they’re of “limited biological significance.” Yet the researchers speculated that increasing the intensity and duration of exercise would “likely have a major effect on body-composition and fat distribution.” (As we’ll see, that hopeful prediction didn’t prove out.)
Just how “limited” were the weight loss benefits of exercise? Men lost 0.4 kg and women a mere 0.1 kg! Other research, such as the meta-analysis done by researchers at the University of Vermont, has consistently found women lose less fat and weight than men, an understandably important biological attribute for preserving fertility and the survival of the species. “In a recent study conducted in our laboratory,” wrote Wilmore, “previously sedentary, moderately overweight women placed on an intense, 6-month, resistance-training program actually gained total mass and fat mass, even though they were instructed to maintain the same diet and activity pattern that they had before starting the study.”
The article goes on to describe several more studies which found the same result: for many people, exercise won’t lead to significant weight loss.
What’s horrible about this is that, by presenting exercise for fat people as primarily about weight loss, mainstream media and medicine may actually be increasing deaths among fat people. Because exercise for fat people is presented as a weight loss issue, those fat people who try exercise and find that they remain fat may not see the point of continuing. After all, the exercise program “failed.”
If the major media and the medical establishment preached that exercise – not weight loss – was the key to good health, then many people (especially fat people) might exercise more, and therefore lead longer, healthier lives.
But mainstream opinion-makers won’t do that. Sure, it might save some lives, but there are more imporant issues at stake here. Talking about exercise and health for fat people, without making losing weight the measure of success, implies that we can be fat and in good health. And that view is heretical in our fat-phobic society.
Arguably, it’s not only heretical – it’s immoral. For many people, being fat isn’t just a physical trait; it’s a moral flaw. And suggesting that people should be fat and fit is suggesting that immorality should go unpunished. To the most fat-phobic people, that suggestion doesn’t just sound wrong; it sounds unjust.