For most people, body weight is not a matter of choice: the scientific evidenceAlthough much basic biological research still needs to be done, studies show clearly that for most people, dieting and food restriction fail to control obesity. Here is a summary of many of the scientific articles supporting this conclusion.
- In 1958, Dr. Albert Stunkard did the first carefully done, controlled study of the outcomes of weight-loss diets. His data showed that virtually none of those who lost weight were able to keep that weight off. (Stunkard, A.J., 1959. The Results of Treatment of Obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine, 103, 79-85.)
- In 1986, Stunkard and others showed that adult identical twins who had been raised in different families had similar or identical body weights, proving that weight is in large part genetically determined, and that differences in family eating and exercise patterns were much less significant factors. (Stunkard, A.J., et al., 1986. An Adoption Study of Human Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 314, 193-198.)
- In 1991, David Garner and Susan Wooley summarized the findings that diets were ineffective for long-term weight loss and suggested a revision of the standard medical prescription of calorie-reduced diets, since that prescription was simply not working. (Garner, D.M. and Wooley, S.C., 1991. Confronting the Failure of Behavioral and Dietary Treatments for Obesity. Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 729-780.)
- In 1992, Foreyt and others showed that behavior modification is not effective as a weight-loss method. (Foreyt, J.P. Goodrick, G.K., & Grotto, A.M., 1981. Limitations of Behavioral Treatments of Obesity: Review and Analysis. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 4, 159-173.)
- Long-term studies are essential in the area of weight loss, since it is apparent that over time, more and more of the initial weight loss is inevitably regained. But such studies are very rare in obesity research, with most studies following subjects for no more than one or two years. In 1996, however, Grodstein and others surveyed 192 participants in a commercial weight loss program. Three years after completing the program, only 12% of the subjects had kept off the bulk (75%) of the weight they had lost. 57% maintained a small portion (5% or more) of the loss, and 40% had gained back more than they had lost during the diet. (Grodstein, Francine, ScD et al, 1996. Three-Year Follow-Up of Participants in a Commercial Weight Loss Program. Archives of Internal Medicine 156, 1302-1306.)
- In 1992, the National Institutes of Health convened a Technology Assessment Conference to study which weight-loss methods were safe, effective, and permanent. Their conclusion was that there are no methods currently known that can be considered to be effective treatments. For all diets, weight-loss programs, behavior modification and other methods, the failure rate was 92% or more. (National Institutes of Health Technology Assessment Conference Panel. Methods for Voluntary Weight Loss and Control. Annals of Internal Medicine 116, 943-949.)
- On January 1, 1998, the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 338, No. 1) carried the editorial "Losing Weight: An Ill-Fated New Year's Resolution." They noted that despite the social pressure to lose weight, there is not clear evidence of the risks of obesity and the benefits of weight loss. They speculated that much of the health risks were not from obesity but rather from sedentary lifestyles regardless of body size. They noted that bodies have fairly stable set points that can be overridden with severe dieting and vigorous exercise, but that "when those extreme measures are discontinued, body weight generally returns to its pre-existing level."
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