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We all know how we could lose weight, don’t we. Exercise more; eat less. Simple. Simple but wrong.

A fascinating article in the Times today suggests exercise is a red herring. Exercise may have many virtues – no one’s suggesting otherwise – but these do not include reducing your weight.

There is, the research suggests, only one way to lose weight: eat less.

But, you might say, don’t you ‘burn up’ calories doing exercise? Yes, you do, but the trouble – it seems – is that your body then (over)compensates for what you’ve burnt off. You feel entitled to eat more than you otherwise would, which means that – at best – you end up no worse off taking exercise than if you’d done none.

There are two consequences for this. One is that exercise bugs need to know that their sweating and groaning may be doing them a lot of good in other ways, but that if they actually want to lose weight the real weapon they have at their disposal is to eat less.

The other consequence is the allied parental and public policy implications. If you’re a parent, don’t try to persuade yourself that the answer to Little Johnnie’s spare tyre is to get him to kick a ball about more. Make him cut back on the doughnuts.

The same argument is even more important at the public policy level. If the research is right, it means that all the government talk about raising exercise levels to combat obesity is so much hot air.

The only real weapon is public education, and confronting the vested interests in the saturated fats and sugar industry.

Sounds a lot more difficult, doesn’t it?

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