Myths and Presumptions about Obesity Abound

The Physicians Committee

Myths and Presumptions about Obesity Abound

February 5, 2013

False and scientifically unsound beliefs about obesity persist in both the media and scientific literature, according to an article published in January’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Using the Internet to explore misconceptions about obesity, the authors investigated several commonly held beliefs about weight control. The researchers concluded that many of these viewpoints lack scientific evidence and should be corrected in order to effect real change in the current obesity crisis.

Following is a summary of the myths and respective refuting evidence:

Myth Current Research
Setting realistic weight-loss goals leads to a better outcome. More ambitious weight-loss goals may lead to greater weight loss.
Physical education in schools can help reduce or prevent childhood obesity. Physical activity in school-based programs is ineffective at reducing weight or obesity prevalence.
Small, sustained decreases in energy intake will bring long-term weight loss. This notion does not take into account individual variability for calorie requirements.
Rapid weight loss should be discouraged, because gradual weight loss is more sustainable. Rapid versus slow weight loss showed no significant difference in long-term, weight-loss maintenance.
People who enter weight-loss programs but are not at the appropriate stage of change will not see benefits. People who are willing to undertake a weight-loss regimen are already prepared to change behaviors.
Breast-feeding can prevent obesity later in life. There is no evidence-based association between breast-feeding and obesity prevention; however, it is associated with other benefits for both the child and mother.
Sexual activity burns substantial amounts of calories. Sexual activity burns approximately 21 calories.

 Casazza K, Fontaine KR, Astrup A, et al. Myths, presumptions, and facts about obesity. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:446-454.

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