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PepsiCo CEO Blames Obesity on Lack of Exercise. Really?

PepsiCo CEO and vegetarian Indra Nooyi says obesity “wouldn’t exist” if we all just exercised, Fortune reports.

The context of that comment: a discussion of how Nooyi wants to boost sales of the company’s “good-for-you” foods to $30 billion in 2020 from $10 billion now.

But here’s the rub: it’s not particularly clear that exercise alone is the key to maintaining or losing weight. A recent JAMA study found that women already at a healthy body weight had to get the equivalent of an hour a day of moderately intense exercise to avoid putting on weight over the years. Exercise had little effect on weight gain among women who were already overweight or obese. As one scientist and weight loss expert recently told the New York Times magazine, “In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss.”

Of course, food and beverage companies aren’t about to harp on the other – and necessary – part of losing weight or avoiding obesity: watching what you eat. A study published in December in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that “increased energy intake appears to be more than sufficient to explain weight gain in the U.S. population.” It calculated that to get back to the body weights of the 1970s, adults would need to chop an average of 500 calories from their daily intake, while kids would need to cut back by 350 calories. To get the same reduction via exercise alone, it would take between 110 and 150 minutes a day of walking, the study says.

Here’s a real-world example of why it’s tough to compensate for what we eat via exercise: if a 50-pound kid plays soccer for 45 minutes, she burns up about 120 calories. But a typical post-game snack chosen from Pepsi’s “good for you” brand list – a 15.2-ounce bottle of Dole Strawberry-Kiwi juice and a reduced calorie Quaker granola bar – adds up to 320 calories. Even a 150-pound adult would barely burn off more than she took in under the same circumstances.

Here’s a calculator from the Calorie Control Council to help figure out how many calories you’re burning off based on weight and activity.

Photo: Bloomberg News

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