The New York Times, one of the most reliable sources for health and medical coverage in the popular media, recently had two articles of interest to psychologists and other behavioral professionals who are interested in health and wellness. On June 15, 2015, they published “To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercising More.” The information in this article probably would not be new to dieticians and other medical professionals who are current on the research about weight loss, but it may be helpful to the rest of us who do not have their level of training. The article is highly critical of popular cultural sources of weight loss advice that emphasize exercise, especially “The Biggest Loser” TV show. The author goes on to cite research on wellness and weight loss that supports a combination of healthy eating and regular activity habits. He also notes that exercise tends to increase appetite, and it does nor take much excessive intake to overwhelm most most people’s ability to burn it off with exercise.
Of course, he also notes the many documented health benefits of a regular exercise program – just not so much for weight loss. He ends by noted that dietary changes tend to work best in the long run, but are also less sexy and exciting than a good, solid dietary plan. He ends with, “After all, as a friend said to me recently, “The Biggest Loser” would be really boring if it were shot after shot of contestants just not overeating.”
Update, 6-20-15: The author evidently received quite a bit of criticism from exercise enthusiasts, so he posted a response to clarify and expand on the original article. He discussed his own exercise program, and wrote:
There are many benefits to exercise above weight loss. That is why I exercise (he exercises 5 days per week). That is why you should be active, too. But you shouldn’t believe that is is more important than what you eat- or even as important -when it comes to achieving a healthy weight.
He goes on to provide additional information in support of his case that “more gradual and sustainable change in eating behavior is is more likely to achieve success than overly restrictive diets” and evidence that shows “that what you eat is more important to achieving a healthy weight than how much you exercise.”
The second article was also published on June 15, 2015. “Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic” reviews some recent research that finds that even though the average weight of children has increased between 1994 and 2012 the likelihood that their parents could categorize their child’s weight accurately has decreased by about 30 percent. The current findings have more than three quarters of parents of obese preschool-age boys and nearly 70 percent of parents of obese preschool- age girls describe their child’s weight as “about right.” This has led one childhood obesity specialist to coin the term “oblivobesity” to describe this problem. The article goes on to discuss theories about whether the parents are in denial, feel overwhelmed by the work that would be required to improve their child’s health, or simply accept their child’s weight as a new cultural norm.
My take: both articles support the need for behavioral specialists to be involved in the care of people with weight loss problems and the benefits of being knowledgeable about current research about weight loss issues. Both also could be provided to patients and families as sources of quality information about these issues.