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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Boston, Massachusetts » Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center On Aging » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #339619

Research Project: Obesity and Energy Regulation throughout the Adult Lifecycle

Location: Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center On Aging

Title: The messy truth about weight loss

item Roberts, Susan - Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center On Aging At Tufts University
item Das, Sai Krupa - Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center On Aging At Tufts University

Submitted to: Scientific American
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/1/2017
Publication Date: 6/1/2017
Citation: Roberts, S., Das, S. 2017. The messy truth about weight loss. Scientific American. 316(6):36-41.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The prevalence of obesity continues to rise worldwide, and today 37% of Americans are obese and an additional 34% are overweight. The metabolic effects of obesity are known to severely increase the risk of all major noncommunicable diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and several cancers, and also negatively impact immunity, vitality, sleep, brain health, and healthy aging. That is why obesity is now considered a disease, and indeed is recognized as the most challenging and pressing disease epidemic of the 21st century. Beyond its effects on health, obesity also has important economic effects, with financial consequences including an increase in direct medical expenditures of $200 billion/year in the U.S., reduced workforce productivity, and increased rates of disability and accidents. Obesity also has environmental effects, being recognized to increases in greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Combined, the health, economic, and environmental consequences of obesity make it one of the largest challenges facing the world today. Without more effective methods for obesity treatment, we will never be able to turn the obesity epidemic around. That is why, for the past 20 years, our lab has been intensively researching how to make weight management easier and more sustainable. Our work has spanned a wide range of methods and topics, including physiological projects measuring human calorie requirements, inpatient clinical investigations of the metabolic and hunger-suppressing effects of different foods and nutrients. Recently, we have started bundling the new science together in redesigned behavioral interventions to help people manage their weight while leading a normal life in the community. Although the reality of human nutrition research is that it is often difficult to identify funding and then slow and challenging to recruit study participants, we are finally making real progress that promises to transform weight management as we know it today. Much of our work has challenged common dogmas and opened doors for new approaches. We have shown, for example, that exercise isn't the most important thing to do when you want to lose weight, and that changing eating habits is much more important. We have also showed that different people respond differently to diets with different compositions, opening the door to personalized weight loss plans based on a real scientific foundation that work better than generic versions. And we have debunked the myth that low metabolism - a widely suspected cause of weight regain - is an inevitable cause of weight regain, instead finding that people using sensible (non-extreme) methods have a small decrease in metabolism that is entirely explained by being a smaller person. Today, we recognize there is a great urgency in moving our laboratory research into the outside world. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that, if current trends continue, 50% of Americans will be obese and there will be 20 times the number of new diagnoses of diabetes within just 15 years. That is why our research protocols are starting to study people leading their normal lives in the community, as we work out how to bring all the lab science together in practical ways that allow people to lose weight and keep it off.