Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity

There’s a paper out now at NEJM that’s just so awesome. Myths and obesity? What more could you want:

BACKGROUND: Many beliefs about obesity persist in the absence of supporting scientific evidence (presumptions); some persist despite contradicting evidence (myths). The promulgation of unsupported beliefs may yield poorly informed policy decisions, inaccurate clinical and public health recommendations, and an unproductive allocation of research resources and may divert attention away from useful, evidence-based information.

METHODS: Using Internet searches of popular media and scientific literature, we identified, reviewed, and classified obesity-related myths and presumptions. We also examined facts that are well supported by evidence, with an emphasis on those that have practical implications for public health, policy, or clinical recommendations.

RESULTS: We identified seven obesity-related myths concerning the effects of small sustained increases in energy intake or expenditure, establishment of realistic goals for weight loss, rapid weight loss, weight-loss readiness, physical-education classes, breast-feeding, and energy expended during sexual activity. We also identified six presumptions about the purported effects of regularly eating breakfast, early childhood experiences, eating fruits and vegetables, weight cycling, snacking, and the built (i.e., human-made) environment. Finally, we identified nine evidence-supported facts that are relevant for the formulation of sound public health, policy, or clinical recommendations.

CONCLUSIONS: False and scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press.

There were some myths that I already knew were false. But the presumptions pretty much blew me away. Early childhood weight and habits predicting later outcomes? No evidence. Eating more fruits and vegetables? No effect on their own. Snacking associated with weight gain? Nope. Built environment related to obesity? Try again.

Granted some things about obesity are correct. Exercise is good for you no matter what, and it can help in long term weight loss. Programs that involve families are more likely to help children. Bariatric surgery can be a real life saver for some people.

Go read the whole thing (if you can – I don’t know if it’s gated). I’m constantly amazed at how little of what we think we know is true actually is.


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