Can the Growing Obesity Problem Be Curbed?

Despite a decade of programs, messages, guilt trips and warnings, Americans are getting even fatter. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that 26.7 percent of adults over the age of 18 are obese, compared with 19.8 percent in 2000. The alarming rate of growth is in the opposite direction of the U.S. Surgeon General's national goal to reduce obesity levels to 15 percent by 2010.

So, have we learned anything about how to control weight? Recently, different sets of researchers discovered methods that obese people do not respond to and at least one practice that does seem to work.

Dr Samantha Thomas, from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, interviewed 142 obese people, (defined as a Body Mass Index of 30 or more), to get their opinions of the myriad of intervention programs aimed at them. When asked about government regulation, public health media campaigns, or commercial diet and exercise program, the respondents did not favor any effort to make them feel guilty or ashamed of their weight.

The study appears in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Public Health.

"This study provides a number of new insights into how and why obese individuals support and uptake different interventions, Thomas said. Participants in this study were less likely to view interventions as effective if they thought they were stigmatizing, or blamed and shamed individuals for being overweight."

Programs that support the individual in lifestyle changes rather than focusing on just weight loss seem to be favored most by those that need help.

One of those programs uses a Web-based medium to communicate with folks trying to lose weight. A large study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research provided a weight management website to 348 people who were considered obese. Those that used the website to record their weight at least once a month for at least two and a half years maintained the greatest weight loss.

Their results were published online in the open access Journal of Medical Internet Research.

"Consistency and accountability are essential in any weight maintenance program. The unique part of this intervention was that it was available on the Internet, whenever and wherever people wanted to use it," said study lead author Kristine L. Funk.

The program was part of the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial, a huge weight loss study that included 1600 people over three years at four different data collection sites. For the first six months, all participants were part of traditional group weight loss classes where they were weighed weekly, asked to keep food journals and given lots of nutrition information.

Those that stayed with the program were then split into three groups; those that no intervention, those that met monthly with a personal health coach and those that had unlimited access to the weight management website.

During the first six months, the participants lost an average of 19 pounds. During the follow-up stage, those that consistently used the website kept an average of nine of the 19 pounds off for the next 30 months, beating the other two methods significantly.

Study co-author Victor J. Stevens, PhD, co-author and senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research concluded, "Keeping weight off is even more difficult than losing it in the first place, so the fact that so many people (in the study) were able to maintain a good portion of their weight loss is very encouraging to us."

Dan Peterson writes about sports science at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

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