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‘Myth of physical activity and obesity’ editorial suspended by journal

Article had attracted strong criticism from experts

Earlier this month we reported on an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in which the notion that exercise can help obese people lose weight was described as a “myth”. BikeBiz reports that the piece has since been removed. Anyone attempting to access it is now greeted with the message: “This paper has been temporarily removed following an expression of concern.”

The editorial, which was jointly written by London-based Dr Aseem Malhotra and two other experts – one from South Africa, the other from the United States – argued that “manipulative marketing” by the food industry had undermined government initiatives to combat obesity and that “vested interests” distorted public health messaging relating to diet and exercise.

The authors said that while levels of obesity have soared in the Western world over the past three decades, levels of exercise have remained almost static and they therefore laid the blame for the nation’s weight gain on the type and amount of calories consumed. “Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity,” they wrote. “You cannot outrun a bad diet.”

Dr Malhotra later told the BBC:

"An obese person does not need to do one iota of exercise to lose weight. They just need to eat less. My biggest concern is that the messaging that is coming to the public suggests you can eat what you like as long as you exercise. That is unscientific and wrong. You cannot outrun a bad diet."

However, Philip Insall, director of health at the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, said that in the case of the UK at least, levels of physical activity had in fact fallen over the past half century. “From 1961 to 2005, levels of physical activity in the UK dropped by 20 per cent and if current trends continue, will reduce by more than 35 per cent by 2030.”

Professor Mark Baker from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which sets guidelines for health in England and Wales, was blunt in his response when the editorial was first published. He said that it was "idiotic" to downplay the value of exercise and reiterated NICE’s recommendation that people combine well-balanced diets with physical activity.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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