Obesity is viewed as a common condition in the United States. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the prevalence of obesity for adults aged 20 years and older is about 34% and has doubled among adults between 1980 and 2004 (1). If there is good news in the estimates it is that the dramatic increase in obesity may have peaked since there has not been a significant change in the prevalence since 2003-2004.
The enormity of public alarm about obesity is reflected by the estimated $60 billion spent annually in the United States on weight loss products and services (2). While the diet industry still commands enormous profits and professionally led weight control programs are the standard treatment offered to those presenting with obesity, in the past 20 years there has been a growing wave of public discontentment with both commercial and professional programs over the past several years. There have been Congressional and FTC hearings charging the commercial dieting industry with misleading and fraudulent advertising; however, we are still flooded by false and deceptive claims for weight loss miracles. Just enter “diets” in your Google search bar and wade through the tsunami of ads that range from the pseudo credible to the bizarre.
There is seeming unity in the scientific community in condemning deceptive advertising; however, scientists remain sharply divided on the fundamental question of whether traditional behavioral and dietary treatments should be the standard offered to obese individuals. The traditional approach has been sharply challenged recently by reports suggesting that for the vast majority of people: 1) dieting is ineffective in producing lasting and clinically significant amounts of weight loss, 2) dieting is no match for the genetic and biological factors that resist permanent weight loss once obesity has occurred, 3) dieting may aggravate health risk factors associated with obesity, and 4) dieting can lead to serious side-effects such as binge-eating and depression. Traditionally, the only type of treatment offered to obese people has focused on reversing the obese state. It is either stated or implied that maintenance of significant weight loss is a realistic and that failure to maintain weight-loss does no harm. Both of these assumptions are inconsistent with much of what we know. There is evidence that binge-eating, wide fluctuations in body weight, negative mood changes and certain health problems may be a consequence of self-initiated and professionally led diet programs. We will have more to say later on this blog on these discussion points.
(2) Market Data Enterprises, http://www.marketdataenterprises.com/