Scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both the scientific literature and the popular press, according to a widely reported study published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine.
A team of international researchers analyzed articles published in the scientific and popular press to separate myths from evidence-based facts. The authors defined myths as beliefs about obesity, many of which are held fervently despite evidence to the contrary.
“Many of the myths encountered are lifestyle choices that studies have shown to be associated with weight loss or prevention of obesity. However, frequently one choice or dietary change alone does not result in weight loss or prevention of obesity,” study coauthor Nefertiti H. Durant, MD, MPH, told ConsultantLive.
“Often in studies a full adjustment is not made for other factors that may impact weight loss and weight gain, thus leading to an incorrect assumption that the one factor studied leads to weight loss by itself,” said Dr Durant, Assistant Professor, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “While many individual lifestyle choices are associated with prevention of obesity and weight loss, an association does not imply causality.”
The researchers identified 7 obesity-related myths concerning the effects of small sustained increases in energy intake or expenditure, establishment of realistic goals for weight loss, rapid weight loss, weight-loss readiness, physical education classes, breast-feeding, and energy expended during sexual activity.
They also identified 6 presumptions about the purported effects of regularly eating breakfast, early childhood experiences, eating fruits and vegetables, weight cycling, snacking, and the built (that is, human-made) environment.
“To lose weight, we recommend that patients consult their physicians to do a full assessment of body mass index, diet, and physical activity levels. We further recommend that they are proactive in asking their physicians about referral to other programs to be used in conjunction with medical care,” said Dr Durant.
“Patients should consult their physicians about the role and availability of community programs, registered dietitians, exercise facilities, and certified personal trainers. Engaging in proper dietary and physical activity habits is essential in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases,” she added.
The US Preventive Task Force has shown that addressing obesity with combined interventions consisting of diet, exercise, and behavioral counseling helps patients lose weight, Dr Durant said. “We recommend that primary care physicians work with health care systems, commercial companies, and public health entities to develop comprehensive, accessible, funded intervention programs.”
“Primary care physicians should use the NHLBI Guidelines on Obesity as their official tool to guide treatment. Given the passage of the Affordable Care Act, it is our hope that we can begin to address such issues in a more comprehensive, interdisciplinary fashion within primary care clinics.”
Wellness coach Margaret Moore, CEO of Wellcoaches Inc, comments: “Very few people lose a lot of weight and keep it off for years. People do lose more weight on structured programs, but these programs don’t work for many people for a variety of reasons. Each person needs to find his or her own formula. My weight loss clients have done beautifully on the slow/steady approach because they can sustain it. They change their brains and habits for good over time. We work hard on building a biological formula and thriving mindset that supports sustained healthy choices.”
New York Times: “Myths of Weight Loss Are Plentiful, Researcher Says”
USA Today: “Sex for weight loss? Authors expose obesity myths”
CBS News: “Obesity prevented by breast-feeding, sex burns calories are myths, say researchers”
CBC News: “7 obesity myths shattered”