Change your NEAT?

Researchers at the Mayo Clnic have discovered that fidgety people burn up to 350 more calories per day than calm people, and that can translate into a difference of 30-40 pounds per year. And they’ve determined that activity level determines weight, not the other way around.

There’s a “fidget gene,” they assert, that determines our NEAT – our “nonexercise activity thermogenesis.” (That’s the way people write when they’re trying to get more grant money. It just translates to “activity that burns calories but isn’t specifically exercise.)

The researchers are most excited about the possibility of changing people’s NEAT to reduce obesity. This misses the point in such a big way that I feel compelled to rant.

Assuming that NEAT is genetic, and that some people are just naturally more sedentary than others, why has obesity risen so much in the past 20 years? Have our genes changed? Would our society really be better off if we were all more fidgety?

I used to be a schoolteacher, and I had a lot of hyperactive students. Trying to get them to sit still and concentrate in history class was a challenge, so much so that their parents and doctors often put them on Ritalin and other drugs designed to calm them down.

Maybe we need to come up with a life stages formulation of Human Chow: Ritalin for the young, and speed for the middle aged.

Is it possible that our bodies are not the enemies? That the genetic variation between firecrackers and meditators in our species has served a useful purpose? That the real problem is not our unreliable bodies, but the unnatural environment we’ve placed ourselves in?

A return to Nutrient Rich eating would solve the obesity epidemic completely, without the misguided need to rearrange our genes or overcome our natural tendencies.

Wouldn’t that be NEAT?

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