NORTH-EAST academics are hoping to work more closely with an American professor with unconventional views on obesity and physical activity.

Professor Steven Blair from South Carolina University gave a talk and met staff during a visit to Teesside University in Middlesbrough.

He challenges the stereotype that all overweight people are unhealthy and suggests that with a moderate amount of exercise, obese people can actually be healthier than normal weight people who are inactive.

Prof Blair gave a talk to health professionals, students and academics on physical inactivity: the biggest public health problem of the 21st century Prof Blair, who has over 40 years' experience of research that links physical activity and fitness with many health benefits, believes it is physical inactivity, rather than obesity, that is the bigger public health risk and danger to people's lives.

Prof Blair met with Professors Greg Atkinson and Alan Batterham from the University's Health and Social Care Research Institute.

"What my research shows is that obese people who are moderately fit do not suffer from the health problems generally associated with obesity," explained Prof Blair.

"One hundred and fifty minutes of moderate physical activity a week - for example three short ten minute walks a day - will mean you stay moderately fit regardless of your body weight and this has enormous health benefits.

"It is physical inactivity, not obesity, which is leading to increased mortality rates. Obese people who are at least moderately fit are 50 per cent less likely to die in the next decade than normal weight people who are not fit."

Prof Atkinson, whose own research focuses on the human body clock and its impact on health, hopes to work with Prof Blair in the future.