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The Top 10 Things We Should Tell Our Patients About Weight Loss

It is estimated that in seven years from now, half of all Americans will suffer from one or more chronic diseases, a majority of which are weight related. The American Medical Association recently declared that obesity itself is a disease. Obesity advocacy groups say that this move will lead to better health outcomes by providing more treatment options, preventative programs and education, as well as better reimbursement for treating individuals fighting obesity.

But what do patients need to know about weight loss?  The good news is that a  medically healthy weight does not require a very low percent body fat.

Weight loss for health – not for appearance – comes with a different (and in many cases much less demanding) set of recommendations. So for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll focus on key evidence-based advice for patients at risk for weight related disease…

1. You don’t need to lose that much weight to realize substantial health benefits.

A five to ten percent loss of body weight can lower risk for heart disease and other killers. For obese patients, even a modest weight reduction can have significant health benefits. An eleven pound reduction in weight leads to a fifty-eight percent decrease in the chance of developing diabetes. Even just losing two pounds reduces the risk of diabetes by sixteen percent.

2. Most people who succeed at losing weight (and keeping it off) do so with a combination of diet and exercise.

According to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) (a database of more than ten thousand Americans who have successfully kept at least 30 pounds off for a year or more):

  • Ninety-eight percent of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.
  • Ninety-four percent  increased their physical activity.

3. Walking is the most common form of exercise reported by successful weight loss subjects.

According to the NWCR, their study participants’ most frequently reported form of activity was walking. That’s not to say that other forms of activity (such as interval and strength training) aren’t an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it is encouraging to know that brisk walking is a simple, affordable, and easily accessible place to start for most people.

4. Exercise itself (even without weight loss) is one of the most powerful preventive health interventions available.

Physical exercise has been shown to reduce blood pressuredecrease the risk for type 2 diabetes, strokes, certain types of cancer, and heart diseaseimprove arthritis symptoms and sleep disorders, and reduce erectile dysfunction, anxiety and depression. No pill or procedure can come close to providing all these amazing health benefits.

5.  Diet is more important than exercise for shedding pounds of fat.

As I often tell my patients, “You can’t outrun your mouth.” Which means – you can eat far more calories in a short period of time than you can ever hope to burn with exercise. For this reason, diet plays a larger role in weight loss than exercise.

6. It’s more important to lose fat than to lose it by following a particular diet.

If diet is so important for losing weight, the next logical question is “Which diet is best?” Interestingly, the answer may be – whichever one you’ll stick to. Now, of course there are some diets that are more nutritionally sound than others – but the benefits of fat loss are so great, that health benefits are achieved even on relatively “unhealthy” diets. In a landmark diet comparison study, Michael Dansinger showed that study participants achieved similar benefits (such as improved cholesterol profiles, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers) from adhering to any of four vastly different diet regimes ranging from low fat, high carb to low carb, high fat.

7. The healthiest diets limit refined carbohydrate and animal fat intake, while maximizing fruit, vegetable, and healthy fats and protein.

I’ve just argued that a variety of diets work if you stick to them, and adherence is the key to fat loss, and even modest amounts of fat loss can have substantial health benefits. So does it really matter which diet you choose? In the long run, yes. Research has shown that there are some common nutritional principles that result in optimal health. The key ones are:

  • Avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible (such as sugar, fructose, and white flour/rice products). Unrefined carbs (such as whole grains, flax, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, berries, and cruciferous veggies) are an important part of a healthy diet.
  • Avoid animal fats (trans fats). Healthy fats such as olive, fish and nut oils are preferable.
  • Eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose lean protein sources, including beans, eggs, chicken, fish, pork, yogurt, and fish.
  • Limit alcohol intake and opt for water as your main source of hydration fluid.

8. Aim to lose 1 pound per week.

Cutting out approximately 500 calories from your daily caloric needs (established with a calorie calculator or by personal trial-and-error) is about as much as people can tolerate comfortably over periods of time. Diet adherence decreases as deficits exceed 500 calories per day.

9. The optimal, minimal amount of exercise for the average American adult is about one hour of moderate intensity exercise each day.

There is some disagreement on optimal exercise duration – some groups recommend half an hour per day (American College of Sports Medicine), others (such as the Institute of Medicine) a full hour. A review of the various positions and guidelines is available here. In terms of types of activity, there is general consensus that strength training twice a week should be added to moderate daily aerobic activity for best results.

10. You probably don’t need to take any vitamin or nutrition supplements.

Contrary to popular belief, most Americans (even with their sub-optimal eating habits) meet all of their basic dietary requirements with food intake. Non FDA-approved weight loss supplements have not been found to provide lasting benefits for weight loss and are generally ineffective and sometimes dangerous.

Weight loss drugs and surgical procedures may be effective last resorts for those who have failed to achieve results with diet and exercise. New prescription anti-obesity drugs and FDA-approved over-the-counter options are effective at helping patients shed extra pounds, but often come with unwanted side effects such as anal leakage and adverse cardiac events.

In conclusion, obesity underlies most of America’s chronic disease burden but can be reversed with modest weight loss through diet and exercise modifications. Patient adoption of long-term lifestyle changes are challenged by economic factors (e.g. healthy food “deserts” in inner cities), sedentary lifestyles, poor urban planning, excessive fast food and sugary beverage consumption, increasing portion sizes, and high tech conveniences that reduce energy expenditure, among other factors.

Patients are more likely to begin weight loss programs if recommended to do so by their physician, though studies suggest that they take advice more seriously if their physician is not overweight or obese herself. In our efforts to treat obesity, it may be especially important to lead by example.

Do Chronic Diseases Begin In Utero?

Heart disease. Stroke. Diabetes. Asthma. Osteoporosis. These common scourges are often pegged to genes, pollution, or the wear and tear caused by personal choices like a poor diet, smoking, or too little exercise. David Barker, a British physician and epidemiologist, has a different and compelling idea: these and other conditions stem from a developing baby’s environment, mainly the womb and the placenta.

Barker was the invited speaker at this year’s Stare-Hegsted Lecture, which is a big deal at the Harvard School of Public Health. In just over an hour, he covered the basics of what the British Medical Journal used to call the Barker hypothesis. It has since come to be known as the developmental origins of chronic disease. (You can watch the entire talk here.)

It goes like this: During the first thousand days of development, from conception to age 2, the body’s tissues, organs, and systems are exquisitely sensitive to conditions in their environment during various windows of time. A lack of nutrients or an overabundance of them during these windows programs a child’s development and sets the stage for health or disease. Barker and others use low body weight at term birth is a marker for poor fetal nutrition.

When a fetus is faced with a poor food supply, it Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Diabetic Considers All She’s Learned In The Last 25 Years With The Disease

What I’ve learned in the last twenty-five years with type 1 diabetes:

  • Some of what “they” said is wrong.  It just is.
  • There are times when “they” make a good point, and it’s up to us as patients to figure out what information we react to.
  • The needles don’t hurt as much now as they did then.  Lancets have become smaller and sharper, syringes can make the same claim.  Insulin pump sites, once they’re in, usually go without being noticed.  Same goes for Dexcom sensors.  (But “painfree” is a misnomer and so subjective that medical device advertisers had best just steer clear of that word entirely.  All needles pinch at least a little bit.)
  • Progress isn’t always shown in tangible technological examples.  Sometimes progress is being able to look at a blood sugar number without feeling judged by it. Or to look in the mirror without wishing you were different.
  • There is life after diagnosis.
  • Diabetes is sometimes funny.  It has to be. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*

What Is The Most Costly Healthcare Expenditure?

The National Institute for Healthcare Management Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on healthcare. The foundation just published an excellent report on the distribution of  healthcare costs in the population.

The results indicate that reducing healthcare cost is all about reducing and managing chronic diseases.

U.S. healthcare spending has sharply increased between 2005 and 2009 by 23 percent from $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion per year.

This is a result of a combination of factors. Chief among them is the increasing incidence of obesity.

Who spends the money? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

AHRQ: Healthcare Access And Racial Disparities Not Improving

According to American Medical News, the U.S. health system is demonstrating better performance on most measures of health care quality, but it’s failing to improve access to care or cut racial and ethnic health disparities, according to two reports released in February by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  “Quality of care continues to improve, but at a slow rate,” said Ernest Moy, MD, leader of the team at AHRQ that produced the reports.  ”In contrast to that, focusing on issues of access to care, not much has changed.  Focusing on disparities in care, not much changed…Those are bigger problem areas than overall quality of care.”  Measures related to hospital quality are showing the most improvement.  For example, in 2005, just 42% of patients with heart attacks received angioplasties within the recommended 90 minutes of arriving at the hospital.  That figure improved to 81% by 2008.

While the quality improvement indicators are encouraging, the disappointing access and disparities numbers are not very surprising.

The US health care system is still largely focused on acute hospital based care.  It says we are doing better at what we are doing. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at CFAH PPF Blog*

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