Need for Unbiased Medical Research Into Weight Issues
Bias in research
Weight prejudice is a well-documented fact in our culture, and researchers are not immune to its effects. Health care professionals must work to ensure that their own assumptions about weight do not influence their research. Unbiased research is essential if we are to progress toward improved health for all people.
Conflict of interest
Funding of research by companies that profit from weight-loss programs or diet drugs can cloud the issues. It is essential that such research be done without pressure for a particular outcome. Not only should conflicts of interest be revealed, they should be scrupulously avoided.
Identifying those most at risk
It is unclear whether all overweight or even obese people are seriously harmed by their weight. It is also unclear whether weight reduction, even in those rare instances when it is permanent, improves long-term health outcomes or overall mortality. More effort needs to be put into finding those who are at risk due to weight-related conditions, and programs should be developed that are specific to the needs of these groups. For example, some studies show that only visceral fat is highly associated with diabetes or atherosclerosis.
Stop medicalizing obesity
A great deal of energy is going toward medicalizing obesity treatment, and this should be re-evaluated. There does not seem to be any advantage to treating uncomplicated obesity through repeated doctor visits. This places a considerable lifetime financial burden on heavy people without any indication that a physician can help them any more than any women’s magazine on the newsstand.
Health improvement without weight loss
Perhaps the main controversy in obesity research is that clinical trials do not separate the effects of weight loss, diet composition change, and exercise. A considerable body of evidence is beginning to show that exercise alone – even without weight loss – can have a beneficial effect on obesity co-morbidities. While weight loss may provide additional benefit, considering the failure rate of dieting it may not be a realistic public health goal at the present time. We propose an emphasis on healthy behaviors, and support studies that work toward removing the barriers to behavior change in the areas of nutrition and physical activity.
We see a pressing need for more research on such issues as:
- Does sustained weight loss lead to lower blood pressure or not?
- Can sustained health improvements and behavior change occur without weight loss?
- Does the “Health At Every Size” model improve health?
- Does yo-yo dieting lead to atherosclerosis?
- Do consumers delay diagnosis and treatment due to concerns about being weighed and lectured?
Above all, we need approaches to prevention and treatment that don’t demonize body weight and that allow each individual to reach his or her own personal potential for good health.
RELATED PAGE LINKS
Facts & Figures
Health At Every Size
Take Good Care of Yourself
Long Term Diet Failure
Barriers to Treatment: A Patient’s View
Unbiased Research (currently open)
Eating & Exercise