Challenging the Obesity Myths

A recent provocative article highlights the myriad misconceptions regarding obesity (NEJM 2013; 368: 446-54).

According to the authors, many of the obesity recommendations are fallacies:

  • Myth: “Small sustained changes in energy intake will produce large long-term weight changes.” Fact: Because of changes in body mass, the energy requirements change which results in only modest improvement.
  • Myth: “Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important.” Fact: Setting realistic goals has not been shown to improve outcomes over more ambitious goals.
  • Myth: “Rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight-loss outcomes, as compared with slow, gradual weight loss.”  Fact: Ultimate success in terms of body weight is better with greater initial weight loss.
  • Myth: “It is important to assess…diet readiness.” Fact: Readiness does not predict the magnitude of weight loss or treatment adherence among those who sign up for behavioral programs or undergo weight loss surgery.
  • Myth: “Physical-education classes…play an important role in reducing or preventing childhood obesity.” Fact: Physical education, as typically provided, has not been shown to reduce or prevent obesity.
  • Myth: “Breast-feeding is protective against obesity.” Fact: “Studies with better control for confounding..involving more than 13,000 children who were followed for more than 6 years provided no compelling evidence of an effect of breast-feeding on obesity.”
  • Myth: “Sexual activity burns 100-300 kcal for each participant.” Fact: “Incremental benefit of one bout…is plausibly on the order of 14 kcal.”  (This is going to dampen the all-you-need-to-lose weight is to become a pornography star craze.)

Presumptions -also not proven:

  • Eating breakfast is protective against obesity
  • Early childhood learning regarding exercise and eating influence our weight throughout life
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables will result in weight loss
  • Snacking contributes to weight gain
  • Availability of parks and sidewalks influence the development of obesity


  • Reducing energy intake (dieting) can be effective.
  • Increased exercise improves health.
  • Programs that involve parents promote greater weight loss.
  • Some pharmaceutical agents can help.
  • Bariatric surgery can be lifesaving treatment in some cases.
  • Heritability is not destiny.  Moderate sustained environmental changes can be effective.


Some related links:

3 thoughts on “Challenging the Obesity Myths

  1. Pingback: Family Meals –Protection Against Obesity? | gutsandgrowth

  2. Pingback: Tipping Point for Obesity? | gutsandgrowth

  3. Pingback: POWER — Practice Guide on Obesity and Weight Management, Education, and Resources | gutsandgrowth

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