More: How Very Obese People Are Almost Completely Sedentary…

Or rather, on how the “almost completely sedentary” in  “Very Obese Adults Almost Completely Sedentary” is defined.   The full text of the study isn’t freely available, but the abstract is linked in here.  The results include:

On average, subjects took 3,763 ± 2,223 steps.

That implies a range between 1,430 and 5,986 steps a day.   That’s a pretty wide range of data, and makes me wonder whether they really found anything other than “people are variable”.

On average 23 h and 51.6 min per d were spent sleeping or engaged in sedentary activity (<3 metabolic equivalents [METs]) and the remaining 8.4 min were spent in moderate activity (3-6 METs).

I’m not too familiar with metabolic equivalents, so I went to Google and found:

The Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), or simply Metabolic Equivalent, is a physiological concept expressing the energy cost of physical activities as multiplies of Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) […].  By convention 1 MET is considered as the resting metabolic rate obtained during quiet sitting.  MET values of physical activities range from 0.9 (sleeping) to 18 (running at 17.5 km/h).

Although the RMR of any specific person may deviate significantly from the above mentioned conventional reference value, MET values of physical activities provide a rough indication of the intensity of physical activities such as manual labour or exercise. MET is actually an index number and not an energy unit: a physical activity with a MET value of 2, such as walking at a slow pace (e.g., 3 km/hr) would require for a specific person twice the energy that person consumes at rest (e.g., sitting quietly).

Wikipedia also has a chart showing how METs roughly translate into activities.  The section for “<3 METs” is titled “Light Intensity Activities”, and includes watching TV, working at a desk and walking  2.5 miles an hour or less.   That’s the range that the researchers labeled “sleeping or sedentary activity”.

So that 99% of the day that was spent “sleeping or engaged in sedentary activity”?  Includes time where the people were walking, probably doing light housework, and other tasks.*  Not exactly the impression given by the abstract (“On average 23 h and 51.6 min per d were spent sleeping or engaged in sedentary activity”) or Reuters: “[P]articipants spent an average of 23 hours and 52 minutes sleeping, lying down or sitting each day.”

I also note that the deviation wasn’t given for the amount of time spent in sedentary and light activity, just the average.   Just how much variation was there, hm…?

* This is the point where I should probably say something about how fat people should work to get a half hour of moderate-intensity activity a day, but you know what?   It’s like flossing or brushing your teeth. Yes, it’ll probably help your health if you do it, and it may have a big impact on your life down the road, but it doesn’t inherently make you a better person and you don’t owe it to anyone else.

37 thoughts on “More: How Very Obese People Are Almost Completely Sedentary…

  1. Wow. It is amazing that Reuters specifically and purposely changed the wording from “sedentary activity” (which would have been bad enough from the standpoint of what a reader would take away from it, but is at least true to the study’s definitions) to “sleeping, lying, or sitting down.” That is some jaw-dropping bias or irresponsibility or both, right there.

  2. I’m also interested to know what the statistics for non-obese people are. It seems pointless to say how much obese people exercise as if it proves something when you don’t even have information about how other groups of people exercise.

      • I did a quick search and found what you’re looking for:

        Title: Four-week pedometer-determined activity patterns in normal-weight, overweight and obese adults
        Author(s): Clemes SA, Hamilton SL, Lindley MR
        Source: PREVENTIVE MEDICINE Volume: 46 Issue: 4 Pages: 325-330 Published: APR 2008

        Eighty-six normal-weight (BMI < 25 kg/m2) (age = 34 ± 12.1 years), 91 overweight (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m2) (age = 40.6 ± 13.6 years) and 75 obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2) (age = 41.2 ± 12.4 years) participants, from the East Midlands, provided 4 weeks of continuous pedometer-determined activity data, during the winter in 2006. Activity levels and patterns were assessed for all three groups.

        The normal-weight group had a significantly higher mean step count (10247 ± 3191 steps/day) than the overweight (9095 ± 2950 steps/day) and obese (8102 ± 2894 steps/day) participants (p < 0.05). No differences in step counts were observed between the overweight and obese groups. A consistent reduction in activity was observed on Sundays in all groups, with this reduction being two-fold greater in the overweight and obese groups ( 2000 steps/day) when compared with the normal-weight group ( 1000 steps/day).

        Mean step counts reported on each day of the week by the three BMI groups differed significantly (Table 2), with post hoc analyses revealing that the normal-weight group reported significantly higher mean step counts than the obese group on all days of the week (all p < 0.05). When compared with the overweight group, the normal-weight group reported significantly higher step counts on Saturday and Sunday only (both p < 0.05). There were no differences in mean step counts reported by the overweight and obese groups on any day of the week.

        The normal-weight participants were significantly younger than the overweight (p = 0.002) and obese groups (p = 0.001) (Table 1), and a weak (R2 = 0.05, p 0.05). In addition, mean step counts reported on each day of the week did not differ significantly between males and females in all groups.

        The step counts observed in our sample of normal-weight, overweight and obese adults appear to be higher, by approximately 2000–3000 steps/day in all groups, when compared with step counts of US adults stratified by BMI ([Tudor-Locke et al., 2001] and [Tudor-Locke et al., 2004b]), adding support to the suggestion that ambulatory activity levels should be assessed in different populations to aid in the development of population-specific activity interventions (Clemes et al., 2007).

  3. Interesting, too, how this oh-so-important study only followed ten people for three days.

    Yeah, that’s going to give you a great idea of how most fat people spend most of their days. (/sarcasm)

  4. Yes, I particularly do LOVE the defining of walking as being ‘sedentary’. I guess that is how they covered their asses so that they could say that these people took several thousand steps daily, but were still sedentary all but about 9 minutes per day. As I have said before, moving is moving, & if you are moving, you are not sitting still. Sedentary is when you are sitting in a chair (though not especially so for me since I rock in a straight chair, a legacy of both the cerebral palsy & past trauma), lying down or sleeping, doing desk work. If you are walking, moving around to do housework, etc., you are moving & EVERY step you take counts as a step.

    A lot of us get considerably more than 30 minutes of actual exercise, but that may or may not help us down the road, even though I personally believe that it helps ME to stay more mobile & independent longer, but it is not a damn moral obligation or a sign of a person’s self-worth. And just how motivated are we supposed to be to keep moving & stay moderately active when apparently nothing that we can DO short of running marathons or swimming the damned English Channel is going to be accepted as enough exercise? I move because I feel the need to, because I want to, & because I am somewhat obsessive & compulsive in that way. However, this whole bullshit can make you feel like saying, “Fuck em!” & vowing not to move a muscle you don’t absolutely have to for the rest of your damn life! And, no, I don’t really think that every fat blogger or fat activist needs to add the disclaimer that we “Should” get at least 30 minutes of activity per day (though I believe that the best done science said a total of 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes 5 times per week) because I don’t believe that it is our job to tell each other how to live & I try my damndest to do all I can to ESCAPE this ‘nanny state’ in which we live these days. That’s why, when I make my voice heard online, my message is always, “do what you damn well please. It is your life, your body, & nobody else’s business. Besides, no one gets out of here alive, so I think it is more important to enjoy what time you do have than to worry about living ‘right’.”

    BTW, my mother, who tried to walk with me maybe three times, got a stitch in her side & went back to the house before she had gone 100 yards & lost her right kidney to hereditary kidney disease before she was 45, lived to be 85 years old. She never owned a pair of sneakers or a pedometer in her life, nor did her mother, who lived to be 90. They both thought I was ‘weird’ because I liked to walk so much.

  5. Oh shit! And here I thought I had a pretty decent acitivity level because I waitress. But I guess seven hours of walking around carrying things is still sedentary. I’d better hit the gym!

    Fucking fuckers.

  6. On average, subjects took 3,763 ± 2,223 steps.

    That implies a range between 1,430 and 5,986 steps a day.

    Which translates to anywhere between .54 and 2.3 miles per day.* The average was 1.4 miles.

    I know for a fact that when I was a skinny-minny and working as a secretary, I took far fewer steps than that.

    Now, I do know someone who has fairly limited movement, who gets out of breath after just a few minutes’ walk, and this is what I picture when they say ‘sedentary’.

    Stupid fat-shaming fuckwads. Gack!

    *assuming a stride of 2 feet, even though the average I found (with google-fu) was 2.5 feet. Using that number, it’s more like a range of .67 to 2.83 miles, average 1.75 miles or so.

    • Now, I do know someone who has fairly limited movement, who gets out of breath after just a few minutes’ walk, and this is what I picture when they say ’sedentary’.

      Heck on these “high pollen” days, I get out of breath if I forget to take my allergy pills! (I have asthma.)

      • I’m not sure what is going on specifically, but I kind of assume respiratory stuff. I don’t know if they have asthma or what, but yeah.

        The rest of the world would probably say the problem is weight, but I’m not so sure. I’m in better shape now than I was at 16, half the weight I am now. Realizing my fitness or my health isn’t the same as another person’s, but still. How much activity the person I know gets may be exactly the amount they need.

        (Oh, and personally grateful I don’t have asthma to go with my allergies. I have thus far gotten off really light in that department. All I have to do is watch the congestion and make sure it doesn’t turn into bronchitis.)

        • The rest of the world would probably say the problem is weight, but I’m not so sure.

          I have seen, firsthand, how I can get out of breath loading sound equipment into the van at 11pm—after unloading it at 5pm without a problem. It’s not that I’ve gained weight or gotten more out of shape in the intervening 6 hours! It’s that my asthma meds have worn off.

          (With the new preventative med I’m taking this will hopefully be less of a problem….)

    • “Now, I do know someone who has fairly limited movement, who gets out of breath after just a few minutes’ walk, and this is what I picture when they say ’sedentary’.”

      By my definition, pre-pregnancy I was rather active. I swam, danced, walked lots of places, used my bike almost as much as my car, and went to the gym regularly.

      And I was still damn fat.

      Now, due to pregnancy complications (hyperemesis gravidarum and symphysis pubis dysfunction) I’ve become almost totally sedentary. Grocery shopping hurts. Sitting hurts. Sleeping hurts. There are days when I can’t take more than 5 steps without being in excruciating pain (and earlier in pregnancy was too damn sick to do anything but vomit). I haven’t ridden my bike in 9 months, haven’t been to the gym in 8, and haven’t walked more than 4 blocks at a time in 8 months.

      That, my friends, is sedentary. The idea of not devoting an hour+ a day to “exercise” (compared to living life and moving around like a normal person) is being sedentary offends my sedentary ass.

      • Now, due to pregnancy complications (hyperemesis gravidarum and symphysis pubis dysfunction) I’ve become almost totally sedentary. Grocery shopping hurts. Sitting hurts. Sleeping hurts. There are days when I can’t take more than 5 steps without being in excruciating pain (and earlier in pregnancy was too damn sick to do anything but vomit). I haven’t ridden my bike in 9 months, haven’t been to the gym in 8, and haven’t walked more than 4 blocks at a time in 8 months.

        That, my friends, is sedentary. The idea of not devoting an hour+ a day to “exercise” (compared to living life and moving around like a normal person) is being sedentary offends my sedentary ass.

        Wow. Yes. I guess my thinking didn’t go quite far enough. I’m sorry if my words caused or exacerbated this grief.

        I only had a couple weeks postpartum that would even allow me to understand even the tiniest bit of what you have described here, and then it was only too sore and tired to move very much, or walk very far.

        I really am privileged. I cannot let myself forget this. There is so much I take for granted, like not having constant pain.

        I am humbled by your comment, Ashley. I’m going to shut up and listen now.

        • Oh, I wasn’t railing against any commenter here, or the blogger, just the attitude that I’ve seen espoused by fitness junkies, doctors, billboards, and society in general that ‘not going to the gym’ = ‘sedentary’.

          I personally get really annoyed when a friend of mine, knowing I’m pregnant and having a hard (though thankfully low-risk) pregnancy, talks about, say, a woman who’s gotta be 8 months pregnant ‘kicking ass’ on the elliptical for over an hour, with the not subtle undertone being “and why aren’t you?!?!?!”

          • I personally get really annoyed when a friend of mine, knowing I’m pregnant and having a hard (though thankfully low-risk) pregnancy, talks about, say, a woman who’s gotta be 8 months pregnant ‘kicking ass’ on the elliptical for over an hour, with the not subtle undertone being “and why aren’t you?!?!?!”

            Because, ya know, we’re only fat because we’re not disciplined, right? And we’re obviously weak when it comes to pain, because we must always be making excuses NOT to exercise, since we obviously don’t!

            (Basically, I get it. Jeebus, do I get it. I got a “and why aren’t *you* getting a bike???!?” when my huz went to look at one for himself. 1: Not your business 2: don’t like riding that much 3: I just had a baby, and HELLO it takes time for your equilibrium to come back, so, no, I won’t be spending $500 I don’t have on a bike I won’t use.)

  7. So do many of us who have allergies or asthma, however fit we may be. Many studies, some reported on by Glenn Gaesser (who is not as fat-friendly as we might wish or one of my favorite people, but does occasionally say something sensible) have shown that the BIGGEST improvement in ‘health indices’ (which, btw, also are not shown to be reliable indicators of how healthy we actually are, who will get what diseases, or how long we will live), were accomplished by people who went from having a genuinely sedentary lifestyle to walking as little as 11 minutes per day. That was enough to improve their metabolic fitness & reduce risk factors.

    BTW, I would also like to say that, if we want to participate in the ‘nannying’ game & say what people SHOULD do, the advisability of 30 minutes or more per day of activity is NOT limited to fat people. People of all sizes & shapes can benefit from some activity, if their lifestyle, temperaments, & physical limitations permit & if they wish to do so. I reject the mindset that there is ANYTHING which fat people are more obligated to do than thin people are. (As for the brushing & flossing analogy, having a rather obsessive, compulsive mindset, & am also somewhat obsessive about dental hygiene; maybe it goes together.)

    If you want to run, bike, do marathons, train for a triathlon (though I personally believe, based on my own experience, that too much exercise is more harmful than too little), or swim the Channel, go for it. If you want to run naked down Main Street at noon, be my guest. On the other hand, if you, like my two fat brothers who are both in their 70’s, feel that walking from the house to the car & from one room to another is sufficient activity, it is no one’s business but your own & the stupid fat-shaming fuckwads should shut their damn mouths & concentrate on their OWN lives. Of course, that may be part of the problem, that they don’t HAVE lives; I have often found that those with the most to say about how others live do not.

    • “If you want to run naked down Main Street at noon, be my guest.”

      Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

      I’m relatively sedentary in winter, though I do pace at the bus stop for 10-15 minutes a day (or longer, when the bus is stopped.) But in the summer, I spend between 5 and 20 hours a week hauling mulch, digging holes, weeding, and then hauling the produce home. So, clearly, I am equally sedentary all the time.

      I don’t ever feel like I get in better shape, no matter how much I exercise.

      • I don’t ever feel like I get in better shape, no matter how much I exercise.

        Me either, if by exercise you mean doing something specifically for the purpose of getting in shape. For me, whatever activity I do has to be something I enjoy as part of my life. I live in a large city, and I enjoy trekking around it, so I walk a lot. It’s something I like doing, but walking on a treadmill does nothing for me. Even if I take something to read, I get bored, I don’t stick with it, and I get nothing out of it.

        I lived in Germany for a year as a student, and as I was car-less then (as I am again), I walked. I lost absolutely no weight that year, but my body firmed up a good bit so that the clothes that were tight at the beginning of the year were starting to get loose by the end of it.

        I’ve been in the city for just over 8 months now, and I have the feeling that once spring gets here, I might see some changes in my body. If I don’t, no big deal — I can already walk farther in one day than I could when I moved here. I even have a goal to be able to walk 3 to 4 miles in a day without even blinking, and I’m making progress just by getting out and going places on foot.

        I am, of course, extremely privileged to be able to do so — between my physical ability and the pedestrian friendliness of where I live, neither of which I have “earned”, like so many fat-shaming exercise fiends seem to think one MUST EXERCISE in order TO earn.

        • Actually, I mean, even after a season of gardening (some of which is sitting watching insects and some of which is pretty physically hardcore), I don’t feel firmer/stronger/faster/steadier. The same is true with walking – like you, I’m carless and walk a relatively long time, but I get *tired* at about the same distance each time (1-1.5 miles). I can go again after I’ve had a reasonable break, but I don’t seem to be gaining endurance like I’d like. I don’t enjoy walking for the fun of it the way you seem to, but I do a fair amount, so I’d think I’d gradually see some give.

          • Oh, okay, that’s what you meant. I suppose that’s just proof that bodies are different.

            I think that my body won’t respond as quickly as it did in Germany, and I realized just now that I assumed it still would. It might not, I guess. Bodies change, come to that.

          • Anita, you may find this article interesting:

            ”Some people get big just by walking by the barbells,” Dr. Thompson said. ”Others can lift weights a lot and their muscles don’t grow much.”

            I think of lot of exercise is about maintaining mobility / flexibility / strength, not about gaining.

  8. (though I personally believe, based on my own experience, that too much exercise is more harmful than too little)

    I’m beginning to agree. While on the one hand I felt pretty good about myself when I played high school sports where 1.5 hour or 3 hour practices were common, I recently realized that I was not as active for those practices the ENTIRE time, nor was I doing the same repeated activity the entire time.

    However, when a few years later in college I just HAD to lose weight I figured I’d just go back to alternating three hour and hour and a half amounts of exercise every day. I never had issues with knee pain or near as much shin pain when running before I subjected my poor body to all that. And I was doing karate which is already pretty physically demanding to begin with, especially if you’re a newbie at it (which I was) and then I’d hop on the treadmill for an hour or so afterwards (which would be fine if I hadn’t been doing stuff that’s already hard on your knees for an hour or so beforehand, like karate).

    Gah. It drives me batty when people who are part of a sporting league brag about how “active” they are and how fat people just need to be more “active” like them. I want to smack them and shout, “hey, guess what? I tried that, tried it even more to the extreme than what you do and you know what? I was STILL overweight according to the BMI.”

    (disclaimer, it’s great if you’re part of a league and I don’t mean to say it’s “easy” exercise or that it “doesn’t count” like the douchefaces in this article would. I’m just trying to make the point that a lot of people fail to recognize.)

    And spot on about how you aren’t fucking obligated to do ANY kind of exercise if you don’t want to anyway. For me, it’s better for my mental health to do more, I’m a restless kinesthetic type. But to tout it as the panacea of weight loss and/or haelth!!1 just drives me batty. Did any of these people seriously never play sports with chubbier (or gasp! fat!!11) people? I played a lot of sports and there were generally almost always at least a few girls my size or larger, to say that all sizes had equal representation would be a lie, but there was always at least a little variety, and I noticed a similar tendency amongst my male sporty peers. And you know, the fact that we were fatter often had nothing to do with how high we could jump or how hard we could play. And it wasn’t like we were skipping more practices than our skinnier peers. So uh… why were we still fat if “moar exrsize = thinn!11”? Gah. The stupidity of this crap boggles my mind sometimes.

    • “Gah. It drives me batty when people who are part of a sporting league brag about how “active” they are and how fat people just need to be more “active” like them. I want to smack them and shout, “hey, guess what? I tried that, tried it even more to the extreme than what you do and you know what? I was STILL overweight according to the BMI.””

      I get to hear this crap from one of my friends who’s a total gymrat. The funny thing is, she was shocked when she found out that I’ll go on 3 mile walks randomly FOR FUN or have no problem riding my bike all over town. Just because I can’t run a mile (knee issues due to congenital flat feet, not FAT, and being raised by chain smokers) doesn’t mean I’m not ‘fit.’

  9. Ostara, most of my really fit friends, the ones who ride their bikes 30 miles a day or do martial arts four times a week or play a sport every season, sometimes two at a time, are over the BMI guidelines. BMI is for the mythical “average” person.

    I actually have two women friends who got thicker through the abdomen when they started doing heavy sports, because they put on a lot of bulk in their core muscles, especially in the back. Both had always been really slender and were kind of freaked out to be gaining weight – one of them hit 160 pounds for the first time ever.

    People just are different, and health should be measured by, you know, healthiness.

  10. When I am moving at my most compulsive level, 3 to 4 hours per day, I get overtired, I get injured easily, I get shin splints & heel spurs (even now as the weather warms & I walk a lot more than I do during the winter), my pain increases, I feel as if my joints get damaged & the arthritis progresses further. And, oh by the way, exercising at this level for 3 to 4 years at a time EVERY day has never resulted in more than a loss of 15 pounds over that 3 or 4. The last time I came off one of these, I will in my 50’s, so over the past 6 years or so since I cut back to normal levels of movement for me, I have finished menopause & approached my 60th birthday, & even though I STILL get a good 2 to 3 times the ‘recommended’ amount of activity, I have regained between 30 & 35 pounds, &, quite predictably for a woman nearly 60, am the fattest I have ever been. And I must also remind us all, including especially myself, that I am living with cerebral palsy & now athritis & trying at times to push my body to do things which, for MY body, are insane. I am working hard not to do that anymore.

    It is a gorgeous early Spring day here, sunny & in the mid-50’s. I took a walk of a bit over 30 minutes this morning between about 6:40 & 7:15. I came back home, did a few chores, talked to a friend on the phone, & went back out, walked to the drugstore to pick up a few things, walked the long way home & sought out a few hills (I live in Bangor, ME, which is kind of a little San Francisco & you cannot walk far without encountering hills), & I got in another 55 minutes of walking. I feel good, but also rather achy, so I know that maybe I pushed it a bit.

    I do not drive or have a license, so walking is generally my mode of transportation. My son takes me once a week to do my big shopping & the laundry, but I pretty much walk everywhere else. Apparently the ‘experts’ (who, btw, must be sitting on THEIR asses while they do all this observing & studying) don’t think that it makes any difference how fat, disabled, or old anyone is, whether or not one lives with chronic pain, how busy one’s life is, or whether or not an individual WANTS to exercise or perhaps has discovered that much activity is not all that ‘healthy’ for himself or herself, we are ALL expected to run ourselves to death for our ‘health’…yeah, right!…but mostly so these idiots & their ilk can stand to look at us & mostly because no one has yet figured out a way to make a lot of money by telling people that they are good enough as they are.

  11. Wow. It is amazing that Reuters specifically and purposely changed the wording from “sedentary activity” (which would have been bad enough from the standpoint of what a reader would take away from it, but is at least true to the study’s definitions) to “sleeping, lying, or sitting down.”

    To be totally fair, that’s what the fuck sedentary MEANS. Reuters dropped the ball on actually reading the study, but defining “sedentary” to include walking is etymologically asinine.

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