Weighing the options: criteria for evaluating weight-management programs. The Committee to Develop Criteria for Evaluating the Outcomes of Approaches to Prevent and Treat Obesity

J S Stern, J Hirsch, S N Blair, J P Foreyt, A Frank, S K Kumanyika, J H Madans, G A Marlatt, S T St Jeor, A J Stunkard
Obesity Research 1995, 3 (6): 591-604
The United States is experiencing an epidemic of obesity among both adults and children. Approximately 35 percent of women and 31 percent of men age 20 and older are considered obese, as are about one-quarter of children and adolescents. While government health goals for the year 2000 call for no more than 20 percent of adults and 15 percent of adolescents to be obese, the prevalence of this often disabling disease is increasing rather than decreasing. Obesity, of course, is not increasing because people are consciously trying to gain weight. In fact, tens of millions of people in this country are dieting at any one time; they and many others are struggling to manage their weight to improve their appearance, feel better, and be healthier. Many programs and services exist to help individuals achieve weight control. But the limited studies paint a grim picture: those who complete weight-loss programs lose approximately 10 percent of their body weight, only to regain two-thirds of it back within 1 year and almost all of it back within 5 years. These figures point to the fact that obesity is one of the most pervasive public health problems in this country, a complex, multifactorial disease of appetite regulation and energy metabolism involving genetics, physiology, biochemistry, and the neurosciences, as well as environmental, psychosocial, and cultural factors. Unfortunately, the lay public and health-care providers, as well as insurance companies, often view it simply as a problem of willful misconduct--eating too much and exercising too little. Obesity is a remarkable disease in terms of the effort required by an individual for its management and the extent of discrimination its victims suffer. While people often wish to lose weight for the sake of their appearance, public health concerns about obesity relate to this disease's link to numerous chronic diseases that can lead to premature illness and death. The scientific evidence summarized in Chapter 2 suggests strongly that obese individuals who lose even relatively small amounts of weight are likely to decrease their blood pressure (and thereby the risk of hypertension), reduce abnormally high levels of blood glucose (associated with diabetes), bring blood concentrations of cholesterol and triglycerides (associated with cardiovascular disease) down to more desirable levels, reduce sleep apnea, decrease their risk of osteoarthritis of the weight-bearing joints and depression, and increase self-esteem. In many cases, the obese person who loses weight finds that an accompanying comorbidity is improved, its progression is slowed, or the symptoms disappear. Healthy weights are generally associated with a body mass index (BMI; a measure of whether weight is appropriate for height, measured in kg/m2) of 19-25 in those 19-34 years of age and 21-27 in those 35 years of age and older. Beyond these ranges, health risks increase as BMI increases. Health risks also increase with excess abdominal/visceral fat (as estimated by a waist-hip ratio [WHR] > 1.0 for males and > 0.8 for females), high blood pressure (> 140/90), dyslipidemias (total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations of > 200 and > 225 mg/dl, respectively), non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and a family history of premature death due to cardiovascular disease (e.g., parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, or aunt dying before age 50). Weight loss usually improves the management of obesity-related comorbidities or decreases the risks of their development. The high prevalence of obesity in the United States together with its link to numerous chronic diseases leads to the conclusion that this disease is responsible for a substantial proportion of total health-care costs. We estimate that today's health-care costs of obesity exceed $70 billion per year.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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