If your New year’s resolution is to lose weight, exercise and consume less processed food

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John Tjepkema of Orono is a professor emeritus in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine.

Many people make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. They may have greater success if they and their advisors take advantage of two recent advances in knowledge. One is that while exercise is not a significant factor causing the obesity epidemic, it is important as part of weight loss. The second is that many of our modern foods have effects on the brain that are similar to addictive drugs and cause us to overeat. Such foods were not common 100 years ago, and obesity was also not common.

Reduced exercise has been proposed as a major cause of the obesity epidemic. However, even though we are much less active than hunters and gatherers or subsistence farmers, we actually expend the same number of calories per day per unit of body weight. Greater physical activity is compensated for by using fewer calories for other metabolism, such as the immune and stress response systems. These may be overactive in those who exercise less. Thus reduced exercise does not appear to be the major cause of the obesity epidemic. Nonetheless, studies of those who have maintained weight loss for long periods find that they exercise more than normal weight controls.

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