MythsThey sum: "There is almost certainly a level of physical activity (a specific combination of frequency, intensity, and duration) that would be effective in reducing or preventing obesity."
We review seven myths about obesity, along with the refuting evidence. Table 1 (Seven Myths about Obesity) provides anecdotal support that the beliefs are widely held or stated, in addition to reasons that support conjecture.
Small Sustained Changes in Energy Intake or Expenditure
Myth number 1: Small sustained changes in energy intake or expenditure will produce large, long-term weight changes.
Predictions suggesting that large changes in weight will accumulate indefinitely in response to small sustained lifestyle modifications rely on the half-century-old 3500-kcal rule, which equates a weight alteration of 1 lb (0.45 kg) to a 3500-kcal cumulative deficit or increment.5,6 However, applying the 3500-kcal rule to cases in which small modifications are made for long periods violates the assumptions of the original model, which were derived from short-term experiments predominantly performed in men on very-low-energy diets (<800 kcal per day).5,7 Recent studies have shown that individual variability affects changes in body composition in response to changes in energy intake and expenditure,7 with analyses predicting substantially smaller changes in weight (often by an order of magnitude across extended periods) than the 3500-kcal rule does.5,7 For example, whereas the 3500-kcal rule predicts that a person who increases daily energy expenditure by 100 kcal by walking 1 mile (1.6 km) per day will lose more than 50 lb (22.7 kg) over a period of 5 years, the true weight loss is only about 10 lb (4.5 kg),6 assuming no compensatory increase in caloric intake, because changes in mass concomitantly alter the energy requirements of the body.
Setting Realistic Weight-Loss Goals
Myth number 2: Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important, because otherwise patients will become frustrated and lose less weight.
Although this is a reasonable hypothesis, empirical data indicate no consistent negative association between ambitious goals and program completion or weight loss.8 Indeed, several studies have shown that more ambitious goals are sometimes associated with better weight-loss outcomes (see the Supplementary Appendix).8 Furthermore, two studies showed that interventions designed to improve weight-loss outcomes by altering unrealistic goals resulted in more realistic weight-loss expectations but did not improve outcomes.
Rate of Weight Loss
Myth number 3: Large, rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight-loss outcomes, as compared with slow, gradual weight loss.
Within weight-loss trials, more rapid and greater initial weight loss has been associated with lower body weight at the end of long-term follow-up. 9,10 A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials that compared rapid weight loss (achieved with very-low-energy diets) with slower weight loss (achieved with low-energy diets — i.e., 800 to 1200 kcal per day) at the end of short-term follow-up (<1 yr) and long-term follow-up (≥1 year) showed that, despite the association of very-low-energy diets with significantly greater weight loss at the end of short-term follow-up (16.1% of body weight lost, vs. 9.7% with low-energy diets), there was no significant difference between the very-low-energy diets and low-energy diets with respect to weight loss at the end of long-term follow-up.10 Although it is not clear why some obese persons have a greater initial weight loss than others do, a recommendation to lose weight more slowly might interfere with the ultimate success of weight-loss efforts.
Myth number 4: It is important to assess the stage of change or diet readiness in order to help patients who request weight-loss treatment.
Readiness does not predict the magnitude of weight loss or treatment adherence among persons who sign up for behavioral programs or who undergo obesity surgery.11 Five trials (involving 3910 participants; median study period, 9 months) specifically evaluated stages of change (not exclusively readiness) and showed an average weight loss of less than 1 kg and no conclusive evidence of sustained weight loss (see the Supplementary Appendix). The explanation may be simple — people voluntarily choosing to enter weight-loss programs are, by definition, at least minimally ready to engage in the behaviors required to lose weight.
Importance of Physical Education
Myth number 5: Physical-education classes, in their current form, play an important role in reducing or preventing childhood obesity.
Physical education, as typically provided, has not been shown to reduce or prevent obesity. Findings in three studies that focused on expanded time in physical education12 indicated that even though there was an increase in the number of days children attended physical-education classes, the effects on body-mass index (BMI) were inconsistent across sexes and age groups. Two meta-analyses showed that even specialized school-based programs that promoted physical activity were ineffective in reducing BMI or the incidence or prevalence of obesity. 13 There is almost certainly a level of physical activity (a specific combination of frequency, intensity, and duration) that would be effective in reducing or preventing obesity. Whether that level is plausibly achievable in conventional school settings is unknown, although the dose–response relationship between physical activity and weight warrants investigation in clinical trials.
Breast-Feeding and Obesity
Myth number 6: Breast-feeding is protective against obesity.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report states that persons who were breast-fed as infants are less likely to be obese later in life and that the association is “not likely to be due to publication bias or confounding.”14 Yet the WHO, using Egger's test and funnel plots, found clear evidence of publication bias in the published literature it synthesized.15 Moreover, studies with better control for confounding (e.g., studies including within-family sibling analyses) and a randomized, controlled trial involving more than 13,000 children who were followed for more than 6 years16 provided no compelling evidence of an effect of breast-feeding on obesity. On the basis of these findings, one long-term proponent of breast-feeding for the prevention of obesity wrote that breast-feeding status “no longer appears to be a major determinant” of obesity risk17; however, he speculated that breast-feeding may yet be shown to be modestly protective, current evidence to the contrary. Although existing data indicate that breast-feeding does not have important antiobesity effects in children, it has other important potential benefits for the infant and mother and should therefore be encouraged.
Sexual Activity and Energy Expenditure
Myth number 7: A bout of sexual activity burns 100 to 300 kcal for each participant.
The energy expenditure of sexual intercourse can be estimated by taking the product of activity intensity in metabolic equivalents (METs),18 the body weight in kilograms, and time spent. For example, a man weighing 154 lb (70 kg) would, at 3 METs, expend approximately 3.5 kcal per minute (210 kcal per hour) during a stimulation and orgasm session. This level of expenditure is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace (approximately 2.5 miles [4 km] per hour). Given that the average bout of sexual activity lasts about 6 minutes,19 a man in his early-to-mid-30s might expend approximately 21 kcal during sexual intercourse. Of course, he would have spent roughly one third that amount of energy just watching television, so the incremental benefit of one bout of sexual activity with respect to energy expended is plausibly on the order of 14 kcal.
Despite all evidence to the contrary.
Is there any bit of medical advice on exercise and obesity that's not covered above? LOL.