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Debunking Another Obesity Myth

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Originally posted on May 1, 2014.

Julian grew up an active child, but those days are long gone. Now he struggles to walk up the stairs. When he walks two city blocks, he takes a break, clenches a light post, and tries to catch his breath. As he looks at passersby, Julian knows what they’re thinking: Obese people are lazy.

But according to recent research, those onlookers have it backwards. In a recent UCLA study, researchers wanted to see which comes first, obesity or lack of motivation. They took 32 rats and separated them into two groups. The first group ate a diet designed to make them obese. It mimicked the standard Western diet. The second group ate food that maintained their weight. After six months, the rats completed a fun little motivation task.

What happened? A lack of motivation did not cause obesity. It wasn’t until the rats became overweight that their motivation started waning. These findings debunk the myth people become obese because they lack discipline and motivation. Low energy and motivation follow, but do not cause, obesity.

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About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”