A new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine knocks out many of the obesity myths and beliefs perpetuated for decades. Specifically, the international group of researchers looked at 7 obesity-related myths. They also looked at some presumptions associated with eating breakfast regularly, early childhood impact on weight, consumption of fruits and vegetables, yo yo weight cycling, snacking and the impact of environment. Finally, they identified 9 evidence-based facts that would be relevant when considering public health decisions, policy making (regarding weight), and clinical recommendations by health professionals. Can this new research really get people to “give it up” when it comes to some rather entrenched beliefs….even when science doesn’t support them.
The team of researchers analyzed articles that appeared both in the science world and the popular press world, to separate fact from fiction. The intent was to isolate rigorous-science based information from all other published information. The myths were listed as follows:
#1 Small, sustained changes that result in small caloric deficits, will over time, accumulate to produce large sustained weight loss.
Reality – As you begin to lose weight, your “smaller body” will eventually cancel out the impact of these very small calorie burning or minimized calorie intake changes.
#2 Setting realistic goals is key to success in the treatment of obesity. Otherwise, patients may become frustrated and abandon their plan.
Reality – That may work for one subset of the population, but for others, more lofty ambitious goals may be key to significant weight loss.
#3 Gradual weight loss, is better than rapid weight loss
Reality – Studies seem to show that people who lose large amounts of weight more rapidly, end up weighing less several years later, compared to group who took longer.
#4 People who are “ready to lose weight” are more likely to make the necessary changes. This had led professionals to gauge “weight loss readiness.”
Reality – It does not seem to matter.
#5 Physical education, in its current state, plays a big role in helping to prevent childhood obesity.
Reality – The standard P.E. class doesn’t have a significant impact on childhood obesity.
#6 Breastfeeding protects against or limits the risk of childhood obesity
Reality – though it has many benefits, the obesity protection factor simply hasn’t been proven
#7 A single episode of sex can burn up to 300 Kcals per person
Reality – Simply not true for most participants. Actually, calories burned is similar to sitting on a couch.
Ouch on that last one – I think it depends on a lot of variables. The team also looked at other beliefs that may not have enough research to support their factual nature. For example, skipping breakfast versus eating it regularly. It may be healthier to start your day with a balanced meal, and it may impact productivity, but when it comes to weight loss, few studies show an actual benefit to weight loss impact. The same problem was found with eating vegetables and a direct correlation to weight loss, or snacking and weight gain – the science to make a firm statement in either case is simply not there. Another postulate has been this notion that genetics determines obesity risk to a large extent, and I can speak personally when I say that most of my clients and patients firmly believe this. The science shows that “genetics don’t necessarily determine destiny." Habits and behaviors do have a significant impact. Also, exercise helps when it comes to weight loss, but it is continued reduced caloric consumption over the long term, that largely determines sustained weight loss.