Myth busting obesity

Seven prevalent obesity myths are put under scrutiny, with some results belying conventional wisdom.

The realm of weight loss is one where beliefs and myths abound. It seems everyone, from the public to expert dietitians, has views and beliefs around the causes of obesity, with these not always being supported by good science.

Coming from a firm scientific evidence footing, twenty respected obesity researchers scoured the Internet, popular media, and scientific literature to identify prevalent obesity myths as well as facts that are well supported by evidence. Their findings were published in the high impact ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ in January this year. These myths provide sound advice for anyone determined to have long-term weight loss success.

The research team arrived at a core group of ‘Seven myths about obesity’, with some of them certainly going against conventional wisdom.

Myth: Small sustained changes in energy intake or physical activity will give long-term weight changes.

Fact: A small change in weight is quickly overtaken by lower energy needs as a person loses weight, meaning further lifestyle changes are always needed. Eating healthy is a life-long commitment, not just a diet fad.

Myth: Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important otherwise people will become frustrated and lose less weight.

Fact: The truth is that even ambitious goals for weight loss have been shown to be just as effective. Don’t be afraid to aim high.

Myth: Large, rapid weight loss is associated with worse long-term weight outcomes compared to slow gradual weight loss.

Fact: In clinical trials, people who lose weight rapidly (done in a sensible way) do just as well, and sometimes better, than people who adopt a ‘slow and steady’ approach. There are merits to a ‘kick start’ approach to weight loss.

Myth: Assessing the stage of change for readiness to lose weight is important in helping people who seek weight loss treatment.

Fact: How ‘ready’ someone is to lose weight, does not predict how well they will do.

Myth: Physical education classes in their current form play an important role in preventing or reducing childhood obesity.

Fact: Physical activity is an important health-promoting activity, but the current levels used in many programs are just not enough to make a significant impact on body weight.

Myth: Breastfeeding is protective against obesity.

Fact: Breastfeeding has lots of positive health benefits for the mother and infant, but protecting against later-life obesity is not one of them.

Myth: A bout of sexual activity burns 420 to 1260 kJ (100 to 300 Calories) for each person involved.

Fact: While a person’s mileage may vary, the average amount of energy used during sex is just 88 kJ (21 Calories). Hardly worth getting out of bed for.

The obesity experts also listed what they considered undisputable facts about obesity:

  • Genetics plays a large role in obesity, but genes do not mean an unalterable destiny for a person
  • Diets are very effective for weight loss, but do not work long term
  • Regardless of body weight, being more physically active will improve health
  • Physical activity at a sufficient ‘dose’ (more than 60 minutes a day) aids long-term weight maintenance
  • Maintaining the factors that helped with weight loss will help with weight maintenance
  • Involving parents and the home environment leads to greater weight loss in overweight children
  • Meal replacement products and pre-prepared meals promote greater weight loss
  • Some drugs as well as surgery help with weight loss

What this means for you

There are many false and unsupported beliefs about obesity and weight loss. Sticking to the facts and discarding some long-standing myths will help tip the scales in a positive way in your effort to lose weight.


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