To Stay Thin, Eat Like the Cultural Elite
You don’t burn many calories flipping pages in a novel, or walking to your seat in the opera house. But new research reveals an intriguing association between weight control and enjoyment of culturally enriching but sedentary activities.
That’s the conclusion I reach in a paper published in the Sociology of Health and Illness. The results show how specific sedentary activities reflect one’s lifestyle, and tell us something about the social sources of health.
The study uses survey data from 17 nations, most of which are in Europe. In each country, a representative sample of the population was asked not only about height and weight, but also about time spent in a variety of activities. These included reading, going to cultural events, socializing with family and friends, attending sporting events, watching TV, going shopping, and exercising.
A scale that measures interest in ideas, art, and knowledge—by surveying the amount of time spent reading, attending cultural events, going to movies, and using the Internet—is associated as strongly as exercise with a lower body-mass index, or BMI (a measure of weight relative to height). In other words, reading and exercise appear similarly beneficial in terms of BMI.
In contrast, people participating in other activities such as watching TV, socializing, playing cards, attending sporting events, and shopping have higher average BMI. Although time spent reading and time spent watching TV both expend few calories, one is associated with lower weight, and the other with higher weight.
This connection is not universal. It showed most clearly in nations of Western Europe and Oceania (Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland), but was less strong in nations of Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Poland, Russia and the Slovak Republic) and other parts of the world (Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea and Uruguay). It also showed more strongly for women than men