Given how much press is devoted to articles on losing weight and "the obesity epidemic," you might think you — and the experts — are pretty knowledgeable. So, test yourself. Are the following statements true or false?
- Snacking causes weight gain.
- Eating breakfast regularly prevents weight gain.
- Losing weight slowly is better than losing weight fast.
The authors of the report, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, believe that these myths and presumptions are beliefs held by not only the general public, but also by many health professionals, academics, regulators, and journalists.
These are the findings of a study by a group of researchers led by David Allison, a biostatistician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They used Internet searches of popular media and scientific literature to find which popular beliefs about gaining and losing weight were supported by scientific evidence and which weren't.
The researchers found seven myths in wide circulation and nine facts that may actually help people lose weight:
Just as important as debunking the myths about weight-loss is being able to recognize widely accepted weight-loss advice that has never been proved or disproved. Some examples:
2) Eating and exercise habits formed in early childhood influence weight throughout life;
3) Eating more fruits and vegetables will result in weight-loss or less weight gain regardless of any other changes one makes;
4) Yo-yo dieting is linked to increased mortality;
5) Snacking contributes to weight gain; and
6) The availability of amenities like sidewalks and parks in a community reduces obesity.
Though there is some basis for assumption for each of these, at present there is no science to back up any of them.
The authors of the report believe that these myths and presumptions are beliefs held by not only the general public, but also by many health professionals, academics, regulators, and journalists. They argue that promoting "unsupported beliefs may yield poorly informed policy decisions, inaccurate clinical and public health recommendations, and an unproductive allocation of research resources and may divert attention away from useful, evidence-based information.”
Exercise is beneficial even if it doesn’t result in weight-loss because it can lessen the ill effects of obesity.
The study lists nine "Facts about Obesity" that are supported by scientific studies. Some are fine points that are often lost in favor of broader, more sweeping (and less true) statements:
- Genes are not destiny. Environmental changes can promote as much weight-loss as the best pharmaceutical products.
- Diets (eating fewer calories) work, but diet strategies (eating more vegetables, for example) or recommending a diet to someone doesn’t work.
- Exercise is beneficial even if it doesn’t result in weight-loss because it can lessen the ill effects of obesity.
- A good dose of substantial exercise helps with long-term weight maintenance.
- Obesity requires ongoing management.
- Programs for overweight children that involve the parents and the home work the best.
- Programs that provide pre-packaged meals and meal-replacement products work because they offer structure and control.
- Some weight-loss drugs are moderately effective in treating obesity.
- In certain individuals, bariatric surgery works and can be lifesaving.
So while weight-loss advice is dispensed everywhere from doctor’s offices to magazine stands, much of what we’ve been led to believe may not have any basis in science. While we’re working on finding solutions to the problem of obesity, we need to be sure that what is recommended has been evaluated for accuracy and efficacy. This report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.