The health benefits of weight-loss programs far outweigh any potential risks, based on a recent statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that recommends routine weight-loss referrals for obese patients. The statement serves as an update to the 2012 recommendations on obesity screening and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Obesity is a major public health issue, currently affecting 35% of men and 40% of women in the United States. The negative effects of obesity are well known, as extra weight increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, disability and death. However, effective ways to combat obesity remain a challenge.
For this reason, experts recently reviewed all evidence on weight-loss interventions that can be offered in a primary care setting. The review included behavioral programs that focus on diet and exercise, as well as medications that have been used for weight loss.
In total, 89 behavioral trials were included, in addition to 35 trials on weight-loss medications.
The good news, according to authors, is that there’s virtually no downside to behavioral weight-loss programs. The potential harms are small to none, as authors explain, and complications from weight-loss medications are also very rare.
At the same time, the health benefits are substantial. Studies show that weight-loss programs have been shown to reduce weight, and for obese individuals, losing even a small percentage of body weight can have big benefits. Weight-loss programs have also been shown to prevent diabetes in obese adults with elevated blood sugar levels and even reverse type 2 diabetes in some patients.
The interventions reviewed in this statement included those designed to achieve or maintain at least a 5% weight loss through diet and exercise. Most interventions lasted 1-2 years and offered monthly support sessions throughout the first year.
The programs tended to focus on problem solving to identify barriers to weight loss, as well as self-monitoring of weight, peer support and relapse prevention. Many provided tools like pedometers, food scales and exercise videos, which can aid in weight loss and maintenance.
Based on study findings, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that clinicians regularly offer obese adults to weight-loss interventions. While not all patients may be interested, it’s important that patients are educated about the dangers of obesity and offered treatment options.
Experts also note that weight-loss surgery may be recommended after lifestyle changes like diet and exercise have failed. However, these types of surgical or minimally-invasive treatments were not covered in the recent statement, as this statement focused on treatments that can be offered through primary care.