Skinny Fat Students On The Rise

50% of young students might be skinny-fat

Are half of young college and university students both too skinny and too fat?  A study from 2014 points to yes. Researchers looked at 501 students at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. The average age was 20 years old.

Now, although 70% of the students were a “healthy” body weight in terms of BMI, 71% of them had high levels of body fat.

That means nearly 50% of the students are skinny-fat. This is because if someone is a normal weight but only getting there because of higher levels of fat—that means they’re under-muscled. I suppose when looking at the activity levels, this isn’t all too surprising. 49.5% of the students were either sedentary or “irregularly” active. (And the more active they were, the leaner they were.)

Ironically, those enrolled in “medicine” and “nursing” were the most sedentary.

The researchers wrote that the results they found were particularly alarming because other research shows a further reduction of physical activity once they actually begin their studies.

Why are these young students so sedentary?

Students cite reason for being skinny-fat

So, they feel it basically comes down to lack of time.

I think we can learn at least three things from this study.

  1. Physical decline begins the moment we stop moving. It’s not us getting old and hitting “30”. It comes down to if we use our bodies or not. (In my own experience, I am in better shape and in less pain now at 32 than I was at 23.)
  2. Your medical professional may not walk the walk of living healthy. If this study can be used as a rough ballpark, there’s a good chance your healthcare professional isn’t active, and you shouldn’t expect them to know much about preventative lifestyle changes, etc. (One of my key life lessons was understanding that a doctor’s main job is to diagnose and put out blazing fires—so to speak—not to deal with chronic low-level fires.)
  3. Lack of time is something that must be dealt with head on. The time issue is by far the biggest problem for most people, and from my perspective, it likely won’t ever go away.

What’s the solution to a lack of time?

When it comes down to a lack of time to exercise, cook healthy food, and sleep enough—there are two main options I’ve seen working really well.

  • Shrink the change until it fits into your life. This is the theory behind best-selling books about change like “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and the same idea Precision Nutrition (giants in our industry now valued at $200 million) used for their clients. If you can’t do a 30-minute workout today, could you do a 20-minute workout? If that’s still too much, what about a 10 minute workout? 5 minutes? A one-minute workout? Slowly, as you lock in your habits and they become a part of your life, you begin your next small change, such as going to bed a little earlier. etc. Slowly but surely, you keep adding more and more little habits. I am not the biggest fan of this approach personally, but I think I have the wrong personality type for it.
  • Use the Odysseus contract and go all in. The Odysseus contract is what my old roommate Shane and I used to do the things we didn’t want to do, and it’s how I ended up gaining 21 pounds of lean mass in 30 days. For thirty days, we committed to working out and eating 3,200 calories a day. If I missed a workout, it cost me $10. If we missed a meal, it cost $5. The plan was to work out 3x a week, and that meant if I opted out, at the very minimum, I’d owe Shane $120 from missing the training. Normally, when you’re tired and don’t want to hit the gym at the end of the day, you’re facing a losing battle with your emotions. But with the contract, will you lose a bet and pay $10 in cold hard cash to your roommate? Somehow, that’s worse than being tired. The beautiful part of the Odysseus contract is that you pick your priorities (working out, cooking meals, etc.) and you won’t need to pick what to cut out of your life—things will inadvertently get dropped (It tended to be cleaning and playing video games, at that time.) I love this option because it drives rapid results, and those “quick wins” helps a ton with sticking with it for the long-term.

Without priorities, we’ll always find something else to do.

We always fill our time.

I remember a story about my grandfather, and someone stopped by to ask him how he was enjoying his free time now that he was retired. He was out working in the yard, and he said, “I’m so busy now, I don’t know how I ever found the time to work.”

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