27/02/2004

Lack of exercise is turning NI into 'nation of fatties' claims report

The Northern Ireland population is turning into a 'nation of fatties', not because of overeating, but because of insufficient exercise.

This is according to University of Ulster lecturer, Dr Marie Murphy said that data shows our daily calorie intake has actually decreased during the last century.

The big problem is that we do less physical work, travel everywhere by vehicle and take little exercise," she said. "Most of us are chronically inactive in our work and our leisure time. If we really want to tackle the problem of obesity we have to dramatically change our lifestyles, making physical activity an integral part of the normal day," she warned.

Dr Murphy, a senior lecturer in exercise physiology in the School of Applied Medical Sciences and Sport Studies, said that people become overweight or obese when there is an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure.

She added: “Data from National Food Surveys suggest that our total daily energy intake has declined from the 1970s. The rise in obesity in our society is attributable, in part, to our low levels of physical activity, which reduce our energy needs."

She pointed out that only 20% of people are now employed in manual jobs; watching television and using computers or videos are now the most popular leisure pursuits and a large proportion of car journeys in Northern Ireland are under three miles in length - a distance commonly walked by our grandparents.

Children are much more sedentary than previous generations, due in part to the fact that many parents prefer young children to be in the home rather than outside in what is perceived to be a dangerous modern world. On average a child watches television for nearly four hours a day - a pursuit that has been linked to the increased consumption of high fat processed foods.

She said that ideally most people should exercise moderately for 30-45 minutes a day. This exercise does not have to be vigorous but could include walking, gardening, taking the stairs, and active play with children.

Studies have shown that a combination of diet and exercise is the best way to lose weight and keep the pounds off. Dieting alone can cause greater loss of muscle whereas exercise and diet combined sheds greater amounts of body fat while maintaining muscle mass. Preventing muscle loss is vital if weight loss is to be maintained.

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