Debunking common obesity myths is an important step in combatting its negative health effects.
A 2023 study of more than 20,000 adult Americans found 40.9% had a body mass index of 30 or higher. That classifies nearly half of the nation as obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also further subdivides obesity into three classes, with Class 3, severe obesity, often referred to as morbid obesity, occurring when BMI surpasses 40.
Within this group, 85% had at least one obesity-related cardiometabolic abnormality, whether related to blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides or fasting blood sugar. You can help them by giving them the tools they need to improve their health and fitness; but first, you need to educate them.
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) offers several “obesity myths, misunderstandings and/or oversimplifications” in a Clinical Practice Statement published in the journal Obesity Pillars. These obesity myths were separated based on whether they were related to general principles, etiology, diagnosis or treatment.
Obesity myths: General principles
The following are some of the obesity myths falling into the general principles category, and the truths behind them:
Myth: Obesity is not a disease, but a lifestyle choice.
Truth: The OMA indicates obesity is a disease because it meets the criteria for the definition of disease based on its signs, symptoms and pathophysiology.
Myth: While it may be difficult to lose weight, maintaining weight loss is easy.
Truth: Maintaining weight loss generally requires the same effort and actions as losing weight. Additionally, people are often more successful at losing weight than at keeping weight off.
Myth: If a patient with obesity has health conditions, an elevated body fat level is the cause of these issues.
Truth: While obesity is associated with many health issues, these conditions can have other causes as well. Yet, outside causes may not be explored due to obesity-related challenges in healthcare
Obesity myths: About the causes
A couple of the obesity myths provided the following causes:
Myth: If there isn’t a genetic or medical cause of obesity, it’s a result of poor willpower.
Truth: Obesity often involves physiological imbalances, but can also be caused by behavioral factors, emotional stress, eating disorders and physical inactivity due to poor health.
Myth: Obesity is caused by eating too much.
Truth: Obesity isn’t just about the quantity of food consumed, but also the foods’ macronutrient quality and energy density.
Obesity myths related to diagnosis
The OMA also offered several myths related to obesity diagnosis, including:
Myth: Individuals diagnosed with obesity have low metabolism.
Truth: People with obesity have similar levels of fat and muscle mass as individuals without obesity. Additionally, those with trouble losing weight generally don’t have reduced energy expenditures.
Myth: People considered “big boned” cannot achieve a healthy body weight.
Truth: Little evidence exists indicating a larger body frame is associated with a higher amount of body fat.
Obesity treatment myths
A large majority of the myths, misunderstandings and oversimplifications provided by the OMA were in the treatment category. They included:
Myth: The best way to lower body fat is with a low-fat diet.
Truth: Studies suggest the best diet for people with obesity is the Mediterranean diet, which involves the consumption of healthy fats.
Myth: The best way to lower body weight is to get more physical activity.
Truth: Generally, to achieve a meaningful weight loss, a caloric deficit is needed.
Myth: Losing weight slowly and gradually is more effective than losing a lot of weight quickly.
Truth: Clinical evidence has found when initial weight loss is swift and involves a greater amount of weight, the greater the patient’s ability to maintain that loss.
Myth: Body weight fluctuations are more dangerous than staying at a high body weight.
Truth: Animal studies suggest that not dieting at all may be more harmful to one’s health than “yo-yo dieting.”
Dispelling persistent obesity myths such as the ones noted here can help both practitioners and patients better understand obesity, and make it easier for the DC and patient to work together to develop an effective, individualized obesity treatment plan based on scientific facts and an evidence-informed approach.