The current epidemic of childhood obesity has been a source of consternation amongst educators and policymakers. Experts have been poring over mountains of data in order to find a culprit in this ongoing problem and help children (and adults) maintain a healthy body weight. One of the most prominent targets of these campaigns has been processed foods and beverages that are filled with sugar and fat. The conventional wisdom thus far has been that in order to reduce the weight of children, consumption of sugary, junk foods must be reduced.

Now, however, researchers in Britain believe that this may not be the case, after all. A new review of the current body of research has indicated that the rise in obesity in the U.K. is more likely the result of a lack of exercise and not just the excessive consumption of sugar.

By comparing the findings of two major nutritional studies that examined the dietary characteristics of large subsets of the population, researchers determined that average sugar intake showed insignificant increases, and in certain instances actually decreased, over the course of the study period.

However, the average body weight of the subjects increased substantially in both of the studies, rising nearly 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) for 10-11 year old children, and 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs) for 14-15 year old children. Body mass index (BMI) readings for the two groups increased as much as 18.6 units and 21.3 units, respectively. Interestingly, the rise in BMI coincided with an increase in the basal metabolic rate (BMR) of the children. BMR measures the number of calories that a person would burn if they stayed in bed all day long. The fact that BMI and BMR both increased while levels of sugar intake remained relatively static indicates that the increase in weight and BMI is most likely the result of decline in energy expenditure.

Soft drinks were cited as a major source of dietary sugar, and to a lesser degree, sweetened juices and breakfast cereals. This represents a shift away from table sugar and sweetened cookies and cakes as being major sources of sweeteners.

Though sugar may not be the main culprit in the obesity epidemic, we should remain wary of consuming too much of it. Maintaining an optimal body weight should still include proper nutrition in conjunction with adequate levels of exercise.

Parents should consider serving children more fresh fruits and vegetables while discouraging the consumption of snacks and sweetened sodas and juices. Children should also be encouraged to get up and be active rather than sitting in front of the television or computer.

Only then will we be able to tackle the obesity problem that is affecting not just our children, but the population as a whole.

If you have questions or concerns about you or your children’s weight or BMI, talk to you physician. Before engaging in rigorous amounts of exercise, seek out the advice of an experienced fitness instructor.