by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
If you peruse the health sections of various online media everyday like I do, no doubt you saw more than a few headlines about a study in the New England Journal of Medicine from the University of Alabama, Birmingham that supposedly debunked several “myths” surrounding weight loss. There’s nothing new about studies coming out saying past conceptions about health are wrong, but it amazed me to see health writers from MSNBC to CNN to even WebMD lining up to hail this particular study as being somehow more correct than the so-called “myths” it presumably debunked – especially considering the potential consequences of some of the report’s findings.
According to the study, these weight loss axioms are really myths:
1. Small changes in energy intake or expenditure will produce large, long term weight changes. Basically, this says that it takes more drastic changes to diet and exercise to see significant weight loss. And I agree. However, making simple lifestyle changes can be beneficial to someone loosing weight, even if the results are not measured. For instance, just switching from soda to water for all your beverages might not mean that you will see more significant weight loss than a complete overhaul of your diet, but you will vastly improve your health.
2. Setting realistic goals helps in weight loss. The researchers say that having realistic goals in order to not get discouraged by results is a myth. Now if you only look at weight loss and not overall health, this may be true. There are plenty of people out there who try crash diets and loose weight quickly, yet never find a path to true dieting that maintains better overall health.
3. Gradual weight loss is preferable to sudden weight loss because it lasts longer. Again, if you look at just pounds lost and not overall health, this may be true. But when do crash diets really work? It is plain common sense that when a person changes his/her eating habits to healthy foods rather than slim shakes or diet bars, they may not loose weight as quickly but will have overall better health.
4. Assessing someone’s readiness to loose weight is important to weight loss. The researchers in the study claim that being mentally “prepared” to loose weight does little to help someone loose weight. This one is just weird. Anyone deciding to loose weight is already getting prepared and assessing their readiness to go through with it.
5. PE classes for kids help reduce childhood obesity. This one really got me steamed. To say that physical education for kids doesn’t make them healthier is almost criminal. Inactive children are overweight. Period. Perhaps the main cause of childhood obesity is the diet they consume at home, but to suggest that PE classes doesn’t help promote weight loss is absurd.
6. Breast-feeding protects against obesity. I think the results of this study will change over time as more women return to breastfeeding.
7. Sexual activity is like working out. Now this is just ridiculous to call a myth, even if its true. What is the point? Ruin people’s sex lives?
Even though there were many journalists and news agencies jumping on this bandwagon to cover this study and promote it as gospel, there were some to question it – and for good reason.
“Where they found the best evidence for weight loss was in things like meal replacement drugs and bariatric surgery. And that brings up the whole question of conflicts of interest that the authors reported,” said Dr. Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University.
Among the study’s sponsors (who were openly disclosed) were Jenny Craig, Coca Cola and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
And this brings us back to why the mainstream press would push this study – because it shares the same sponsors. Why push an agenda of health when Coca Cola says drink up and then just pop a weight loss drug made by the good folks at Glaxo? Why set realistic goals for healthy foods when you can order pre-made crash diets plans? Why mentally prepare yourself to get healthy or exercise as a child when you can one day just walk into a doctor’s office and have him tell you to pay for gastro-bypass and get on a table?
Are the findings of the report wrong? Maybe not. But by including crash dieters, pill poppers and weight loss through surgery into it, you get a skewed result that doesn’t assess overall health and the well being of people who are overweight and need to shed pounds. Perhaps we need a study of how news outlets cover studies?