Obesity: Good and bad news

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1117400_69482085First, the bad news. A report just published in The Lancet depicts a true obesity epidemic. The prevalence of obesity is up not just in the United States, but in 188 countries around the world. The authors, Dr. Marie Ng from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle and many international colleagues, estimated the global, national and regional prevalence of adult and childhood obesity. The investigators identified nearly 1800 surveys, reports, and published studies that included data for height and weight, both through physical measurements and self-reports.

In brief, they found that between 1980 and 2013, on a global level, the proportion of adults with a BMI of 25 or greater increased from 29 percent to 37 percent in men, and from 30 percent to 38 percent in women. Similarly, overweight and obesity prevalence in boys and girls has increased substantially these increases obtained in both developed and developing countries, with the proviso that since 2005 the rate of obesity increase has slowed in developed countries.

Obviously, these results are disheartening, as they point to future increases in obesity-linked illnesses such as diabetes. The authors warn: Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years. Urgent global action and leadership is needed to help countries to more effectively intervene.

On a lighter and certainly brighter note, a new study published in the journal Obesity refutes the rather bizarre theory that diet beverages are linked to weight gain rather than weight loss. Dr. John C. Peters of the University of Colorado and colleagues from UC and Temple University in Philadelphia, compared the efficacy of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) (e.g., aspartame, ACE-K, sucralose) in beverages to that of water during a 12-week behavioral weight loss treatment program.

This program was the first part of a year-long study to compare NNS to water; the first 12 weeks comprised the weight-loss program, and the following nine months will evaluate the maintenance of the weight loss. The participants in the study were randomly assigned to either the NNS (145 people) or the water group (134 people). People in the NNS group were asked to drink at least 24 ounces of NNS-sweetened beverages each day, with no restriction on their water consumption. Those in the water group were directed to consume at least 24 ounces of water per day, and avoid all NNS-sweetened beverages.

All the participants attended 12 weekly, 60 minute group meetings at which they were instructed on behavioral weight loss strategies. Body weights were assessed at each meeting.

By the end of the 12-week weight loss program, the individuals who drank NNS-sweetened beverages had lost nearly 6 kgm (13 LB), while those who consumed water lost about 4 kgm (9 LB). This difference was highly statistically significant.

In their discussion, the authors note: The current results ¦provide strong evidence that ¦that NNS beverages do not hinder and can help with weight loss when compared to water. Dr. Stephen D. Anton of the University of Florida, Gainsville, in an accompanying editorial, noted the strength of this study, but also warned that additional work must be done to elucidate the mechanism by which NNS-sweetened beverages might have the weight-loss enhancing effect.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented That worldwide obesity prevalence has been increasing will be a serious problem for public health. Thus far, we ve seen little success in stemming this tide. We at ACSH think that sound public education efforts about the etiology and health effects of obesity are crucial if we are to do so. She continued, And by sound education, I don t mean the ads for all sorts of putative weight loss aids. While the use of NNS-sweetened beverages for weight loss aid has lately been widely attacked in the popular media, the randomized trial reported above should do much to refute such misinformation, and provide some welcome assistance for those trying to control their weight.