Very Obese Adults Almost Completely Sedentary?

For all the freaking out in the media about the obesity crisis, there’s not much research on folks who are very fat.  So a study on folks with an average BMI of 53 shows some promise…right?

Sorry.  The headline: “Very Obese Adults Almost Completely Sedentary“.  I’m not sure how many people are going to read beyond that, but if they do, here’s what they’ll find:

  1. Only 10 participants.
  2. Comparing the study’s assertion that morbidly obese people “average less than 2,500 steps per day” to the “healthy living guidelines of 10,000 steps per day” and not the actual average of, say, a control group.
  3. “The study used a precise body sensor to continually measure physical activity, caloric expenditure and movement minute-by-minute over a 72-hour period within their home environments.”   I may be misreading this, but it seems telling that this is not “during their normal daily routine” but “within their home environment”.   My job is fairly sedentary, but I still walk more at the office than at home because the office is more spread out.   I also don’t go for a walk in my living room.  I walk around the neighborhood, or at a park, or a mall, or I use the gym’s treadmill.
  4. I don’t know how accurate pedometers are for large people in general.  I personally have tried two and found they weren’t accurate at all using the basic “walk down the hall wearing the pedometer and counting my steps” test.  I counted 20 steps each time I walked down the hall; the first pedometer came up with 10 one time, 35 the next, 8 the time after that.   The second one was similar.  I didn’t exactly find this encouraging.

Now, I don’t think this research is a bad idea.  I think it would be a good idea to look at this, not just with “morbidly obese” but also with “normal weight” and “overweight” too – using representative samples and trying to approximate normal routines.    But from what’s been made available about this study, I don’t think it’s going to add a lot of useful information.

There’s an update on this here.

22 thoughts on “Very Obese Adults Almost Completely Sedentary?

  1. And no one cares if thin people are sedentary, now do they, because everyone “knows” that thin people are automatically healthy and do everything “right” or they wouldn’t be thin. Right? Same goes for people of “average” or “normal” weight. Doesn’t matter if they sit all the time and don’t exercise or get their 10,000 steps a day, every day, because they aren’t fat, so they can’t be unhealthy. This kind of crap just makes me so mad, I could spit nails at the researchers who come up with this bullhockey.

    • And no one cares if thin people are sedentary, now do they, because everyone “knows” that thin people are automatically healthy and do everything “right” or they wouldn’t be thin. Right?

      Right. Like how I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded 10 years and 100 lbs. ago, and yet I can walk up and down stairs while carrying a 22 lb. baby in addition to my own, much increased weight now without feeling like I have to stop because I’m winded.

      Because my back hurts, or I need to readjust the baby carrier, sure. But not because I’m winded.

  2. It is all bullhockey anyway. The whole 10,000 steps thing is some arbitrary number someone plucked out of the air, which has no real basis in reality or science. And, oh, yes, they learned a LOT by following TEN people around their HOMES for THREE days….real groundbreaking research. Regardless of whether or not it is true or even whether or not being sedentary is as ‘bad’ for people as is trumpeted (I have known more than a few pretty sedentary people who still manage to be alive in their 80’s or beyond), they are going to do anything in their power to get the idea into people’s heads that fat people are sedentary, they are sedentary because they are fat, & fat because they are sedentary, & BAD & unhealthy. And however active many of us are, as long as we live in fat bodies, it is never admitted that we do enough or that we can be as healthy as thin people, despite the fact that plenty of fat people are healthier than plenty of thin people are.

    Actually, they don’t deserve the name ‘researchers’, for they are just trying to reinforce their own stereotypes & THEY are sedentary, not doing the work of conducting a real, honest, deep, LARGE study & always coming at it from a position of “knowing” in advance what they will find. And, as Sandy often points out, the media often reports & ‘researchers’ often only divulge parts of their findings which support the message they want to send, & often what gets reported is the opposite of what has been found. However, you cannot FIND anything in three days with ten people…you could get that if you just had some houseguests for a few days.

  3. I agree that the home environment is hardly representative. I’m self-employed and work from home, which means my job is sedentary as all get out.

    However, following me around my HOUSE would give no idea at all of my activity level. I just got home from swimming some pretty hard laps for half an hour. I sit around at home. I work out at the gym.

    And my BMI is way above what the charts think is okay, too…

  4. I had a step counter once — I got it off the sale rack and it had a virtual Pikachu living inside, so it could send things to your Game Boy Color via infrared when you built up lots of points by taking lots of steps. Except it NEVER registered steps. I would have to be doing jumping jacks to get it to count any steps. So in order to get points, I sat there and shook it, which was much more effective. Got bored of that really quick. Maybe the ones without Pikachus work better — hopefully.

    10 people is indeed a laughable sample size.

    • 10 people is indeed a laughable sample size.

      Especially since there’s all this ZOMG OBESITY EPIDEMIC crap going around. If it was really an epidemic, you’d think they’d be able to find more than 10 people for the study.

  5. I have always been very active & have been spending the past few years trying to control my compulsive exercise tendencies & keep it to a more normal amount which is not quite so hard on my arthritic tendencies. After all, I will be 60 in a few months & I have arthritis in most of my joints, as well as the CP & the attendant balance/coordination/strength issues which have been present since birth. I go out every day, sometimes two or three times, & at times I am sometimes sedentary, sometimes quite active. Like most of us, I cook, wash dishes, do some hand laundry, clean a lot around the kitchen/bathroom, etc., sweep & scrub floors, & so on. Once a week (this afternoon, in fact) my son picks me up & we go to do my big laundry & grocery shopping, wherein I walk around Superwalmart for 45-60 minutes, then I come home & spend another 45-60 minutes walking around the apartment taking care of food & clothes. In addition, I babysit for the above son, taking care of my granddaughter, who is almost 4, between 35 & 45 hours per week, & taking care of her is not largely sedentary. I am posting right now because she is eating a late breakfast.

    Yesterday, I was out three times…over 45 minutes early in the morning, a 5-6 minute to the local store while Easter dinner was cooking, & another 40 minute walk to the drugstore & back late in the afternoon. I was in considerable pain by the time I got back from the last trip & fortunately took a hot shower last night. Chronic pain is a part of life & has been for some years, moreso as time goes on, but still I remain very active. I am hyper, highly-strung, an abuse survivor, & constitutionally unable to sit still long. I rock in straight chairs, wiggle & fidget in various ways, am always jumping up to go do this or that small chore, get a drink of water, etc. Some of it is nerves, probably OCD (as with my tendency to want to wash people’s dishes before they finish eating), part is that if I sit too long, I get stiff & sore, part is because I DO believe that some moderate exercise is likely beneficial, & partly that I fear, given my disability, that if I stop moving, I will become less ABLE to move, & being, as my father used to tell me, “independent as a hog on ice”, I am determined to stay as mobile & independent as possible for as long as possible.

    And do we know, btw, that these genius ‘researchers’ did not specify to their subjects that they WANTED them to stay around the house…not go out for walks, or go shopping, go to the gym, or another of the other things they might ordinarily have done had these idiots not been ‘observing’ them? I have studied enough about this kind of thing to realize that many of these people do whatever is necessary to get the results they want (or are being paid) to get.

    • And do we know, btw, that these genius ‘researchers’ did not specify to their subjects that they WANTED them to stay around the house…not go out for walks, or go shopping, go to the gym, or another of the other things they might ordinarily have done had these idiots not been ‘observing’ them?

      Not really. But if they were hooked up to more than just a pedometer, say, something that checked their respiration, that might have made someone less likely to move around in itself.

  6. They should have followed me around this weekend with getting ready for Easter…I had the sore shoulders to prove for it too!

    Making blanket statements that superized people are lazy just by studying 10 of those people in their home is definitely not scientific. Maybe they didn’t want to study them outside of their home because that would shatter their ingrained stereotypes about activity level?

  7. I second Vesta.
    My MOST SEDENTARY years of my life were my thinnest years. I realized that activity made me eat more, so I just tried not to move and ate very little. Oh yeah… and my health went down the crapper. But, that didn’t bother me back then, cuz if I was thin then I couldn’t really be unhealthy, could I?
    I am so much more healthy today than I was then… and my body likes to stay overweight or borderline overweight…. which many docs would find less healthy than my thin years when my hair was falling out and I didn’t have the energy to walk around the block. *headdesk*

  8. I was part of an online group trying to walk 10,000 steps a day a while ago–and many of the group members were thin or “normal,” and very few were very obese–and honestly the only ones of us who ever reached 10,000 or more tended to be younger and either students or, like me, (mostly-)stay-at-home moms. It was very, very rare that the folks with full-time jobs or those over about 40 got to 10,000 steps. Many of them considered it a good day if they reached 5,000-6,000 steps and, considering that that is about 2-1/2 to 3 miles of walking, I think they were totally right. The idea that most adults are getting 10,000 steps a day is just absurd.

    Plus, I’d want to know if they gave them any instructions about exercise. I *never* reach 10,000 steps without doing at least 2 miles of exercise walking, and often I need to do 3 miles of walking for exercise in order to reach 10,000 steps. I don’t know anybody who, in the course of their daily routine with no extra exercise, walks anywhere near 10,000 steps, unless they have a job where they are moving around all day. Even then, they sometimes don’t. So the idea that the average person is somehow managing to take 10,000 steps in the course of their normal daily activities in the home is just completely and totally absurd.

    I have a walking book by Leslie Sansone where she says that one day she kept her pedometer on during a day when she didn’t do any workouts. Even though she was moving around all day, she only walked 6,000 steps. And this is a woman who makes her living as an aerobics teacher! I’ve found that, if I have my pedometer on all day and don’t exercise, if I’m really doing a lot of moving around around the house I might get to 5,000-6,000 steps or so, but more often I might only reach 3,000-4,000. But if I were told to just go about my normal routine in the house–particularly if I were told not to engage in any explicit planned exercise–I would absolutely not reach 10,000 steps and I don’t know anybody who would.

    What a bad, bad study.

  9. Just to add, I don’t see how these results make sense:

    On average, 23 hours and 51.6 min per day were spent sleeping or engaged in sedentary activity and the remaining 8.4 minutes were spent in moderate activity. On average, subjects took 3,763 plus/minus 2,223 steps.
    The highest level of activity attained by any single individual during one 24-hour period was 28 minutes of moderate activity.

    The average among the group was 3763 steps, but they were only active for 8.4 minutes? How does that work? One mile is equivalent to about 2000 steps. I’m in pretty good shape, but there is no way I could manage to walk nearly 2 miles in 8 minutes, and nobody moves around their house that fast. So unless these people were moving around like Olympic sprinters, I don’t see how that makes sense.

    And, if we can assume from those numbers that the participant who moved the most walked at least 6,000 steps but was only engaged in “moderate activity” for 28 minutes, does that mean they walked 3 miles in 30 minutes? Because, again, that would indicate being in very good shape.

    I’m just not seeing how they are determining that these folks were sedentary for “99% of the day” when they were getting in, on average, about 2-1/2 to 3 miles of walking. It seems like these results are definitely being interpreted in a way to conform to the conclusion the researchers started with: very fat people just sit on their butts all day.

  10. My office is currently sponsoring a “step it up” program in which we are all given pedometers and encouraged to take more steps around the office during the day.

    These are very accurate, top-of-the-line pedometers we were given, but i have noticed that they are most accurate when worn clipped to the pants directly over the hip bone. The problem is that your hip bone must pretty much be visible through the skin.

    Not many people have visible hipbones.

    I log twice as many “steps” as my heavier counterparts, even though I am less active.

    • I wonder if some of it is how you are shaped, as well. I most certainly do not have visible hipbones, but I have a relatively flat stomach, so my pedometer does actually rest quite close to my hipbones. I have an Omron pedometer and get very accurate readings with it: when I walk a mile, I read right around 2,000 steps. I haven’t found any others to be nearly as accurate, though.

      But, I’d be willing to bet that for a person who has a stomach that sticks out well beyond their hipbones, wearing the pedometer on the waistband would not be particularly accurate at all. If you are doing a study on very large people, you would think you’d actually look into using instruments that are accurate when used by very large people, but I suppose that’s too much to ask in the realm of obesity research.

  11. Wow, I think you guys have said it all. What an unbelievably biased and poorly designed study. *10* participants? Following people around their HOMES yet measuring their activity by counting steps? Not to mention all the other flaws the other commenters found. Someone actually got funding for this? Disgusting.

  12. Much as they do not like to admit it, a pedometer will count ALL the steps you make…walking to the bathroom, the kitchen, getting a drink, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning…& that IS all activity. Being sedentary basically means sitting & doing nothing. NO ONE who is not a quadriplegic or some such thing does NOTHING & does not move for over 23 hours & 51 minutes per day. And since the REAL science can only find a health benefit to 30 minutes per day of moderate/brisk walking, there is no WAY in hell that anyone NEEDS to take 10,000 steps per day for health. In fact, my own experience is that when I am getting in 10,000 or more steps per day, it is not very good for my health…physically OR psychologically.

    • That is exactly what I do not get about this. How could the average study participant be sedentary (and by framing it as “sleeping or other sedentary activities,” they are certainly at least implying that by “sedentary” they mean “not involving any motion”) for 23 hours and 51 minutes AND take almost 4,000 steps? If they are only defining moderate aerobic activity as “activity,” then that needs to be clearly stated by them.

      It also would mean that, even with all of the limitations of the study, at least one study participant WAS getting the recommended amount of exercise: 30 minutes of moderate activity. And yet this isn’t framed that way at all, but as “the most active participant ONLY got 30 minutes of moderate activity.”

      Without a control group, and some validation of the results they were getting from the pedometers, the results of this are totally meaningless.

  13. I was also remembering that when many of us are getting exercise, at least some of the time we are not ‘taking steps.’ I have in the past worn out an exercise bike, as well as another exercise machine I sat on & I was working out, definitely getting aerobic exercise, but not ‘taking steps’, just as I do not ‘take steps when I am lifting dumbbells. And at my most obsessive, some of my most intense exercise was done lying on my back on the floor…doing about 1500 stomach crunches EVERY day for nearly 4 years. How many steps we take is only part of how active we may be, & in any case says a lot less about us, about our worth as human beings or about our health & fitness, than they want us to believe. (Of course, in my case, when I have been lifting weights, doing crunches, using machines, I have also generally still been doing my shopping & housework & still walking anywhere from 1 to 5 miles in a day.) Any way you slice it, though, this ‘study’ is total idiocy.

  14. Pingback: More: How Very Obese = Almost Completely Sedentary… « Living ~400lbs

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