Newswise — MAYWOOD, Ill. – Physical activity has many health benefits, ranging from reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer to improving mental health and mood, but according to research by Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Professors Richard S. Cooper, MD, and Amy Luke, PhD, exercise does not help you lose weight.

While the preponderance of research has found that exercise is not effective for weight control, these findings generally have not been communicated to the general public. “This crucial part of the public health message is not appreciated in recommendations to be more active, walk up stairs, and eat more fruits and vegetables,” Cooper and Luke said. “The prescription needs to be precise: there is only one effective way to lose weight – eat fewer calories.” While physical activity is crucially important for improving overall health and fitness levels, there is limited evidence to suggest that it can blunt the surge in obesity, Cooper and Luke wrote in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

If activity increases, appetite also increases and you compensate by eating more food, Cooper and Luke said. Regardless of increasing physical activity, calorie control remains key to losing and maintaining weight.

The food and beverage industry has tried to divert attention from calorie consumption by promoting the theory that lack of physical exercise is a major cause of obesity. But in the International Journal of Epidemiology paper, which was published in 2013, Cooper and Luke detail the evidence that physical activity is not key to losing weight. Here are some examples:

• It’s often argued that low obesity rates in Africa, India, and China are due in part to strenuous daily work routines, but evidence does not support this notion. For example, African Americans tend to weigh more than Nigerians. Studies by Luke and colleagues found that when corrected for body size, Nigerians do not burn more calories through physical activity than African Americans.• Numerous clinical trials have found that exercise plus calorie restriction achieves virtually the same weight loss as calorie restriction alone.• Observational studies show no association between energy expenditure and subsequent weight change.• Extremely small proportions of the US population engage in levels of energy expenditure at a sufficiently high level to affect long-term energy balance.