7 myths (and 9 truths) about obesity

Feb. 1, 2013, 4:25 p.m.

In their study on common obesity myths, researchers confirmed that sex does not burn up to 300 calories – but did affirm that genetics can affect your weight. (Chris/Flickr Creative Commons)

South Los Angeles is no stranger to obesity – about 33 percent of its adult residents weigh an unhealthy amount, according to county health officials.

There's been no shortage of studies about obesity, but with the increased knowledge come half-truths. Researchers tried to address that in a new study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, where they highlight seven "myths" about obesity.

"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," wrote the authors.

In other words: If our information about obesity is faulty, it'll be a lot harder for us to fix it.

The seven myths:

1. Small adjustments equal big changes. That's simply illogical, say researchers.

2. Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important if you want to keep the weight off – and not get frustrated. There's nothing wrong with aiming high – some people perform better that way, in fact.

3. Losing a lot of weight quickly has worse outcomes in the long-term than losing pounds gradually. Some folks can and do lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time – with no negative consequences.

4. It's important to assess how ready a patient is before putting them on a weight-loss regimen or program. How ready someone is before they set out to lose weight doesn't really seem to play a role in whether or not he or she is successful.

5. P.E. classes in their current form is play a big role in reducing child obesity. "In their current form" is the key phrase – as they are, physical education classes don't do a whole lot to get kids up and moving.

6. Babies who breastfeed are protected against future obesity. There's no evidence that this is true.

7. Sex burns up to 300 calories. Sorry.

"False and scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press," wrote the authors in their report.

But, not wanting to dwell on lies – or, at least, on things that haven't been proven with reliable, scientific evidence – the researchers also included nine actual facts about obesity:

1. Genetics do a play role. But not a big enough role that a person with a genetic susceptibility to obesity can't overcome it.

2. Diets are an effective way to lose weight. Avoiding excess sugar, salt and fried food consumption is a good bet, too.

3. Exercise improves your health and can dull the effects of obesity. It can also help keep you from dying early.

4. Exercise can also help you maintain a certain weight, if you do the right kind often enough. That's not always easy in a dense, urban place like South L.A., but here are five perfectly nice places to walk in the area.

5. Keep doing what you did to lose weight – even after you lose weight. That'll help you maintain that lower weight.

6. Parents play a critical role in helping their overweight children slim down. Because children follow their parents' example.

7. Meal replacements and meal plans do help with weight-loss efforts. But they don't replace actual food and nutrition requirements.

8. Some weight-loss drugs can help some people lose weight. Note, though, that experts caution that such drugs should only be available to those who meet clinical criteria and for whom the benefits outweigh the risks.

9. In some cases, bariatric surgery can be an effective, safe way to lose weight. It may also decrease certain people's risk of diabetes and early death.

The two lists from the study appeared on the Advisory Board Company's website.

Photo by Chris via Flickr Creative Commons.

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