The Cutting Edge of Obesity Research

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The subject of obesity has been in the news a lot lately. Last month, I attended The Obesity Society (TOS) Annual Meeting in Orlando and it was a fascinating experience. Thousands of researchers and healthcare professionals from all over the world came together to learn what we can be doing to prevent and treat obesity.

I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights which really resonated with me. For full details on the presentations and the TOS mission, go to

Kids and Adolescents

I attended a few excellent sessions about kids and adolescents. Did you know that one in three children in the US is already carrying excess weight as they enter kindergarten? Kids’ dietary patterns are well established by age two so the earlier the better when it comes to introducing and modeling healthy food patterns. Parents – eat those fruit and veggies and keep the junk to a minimum.

There is some interesting research on kids and corner stores. When corner stores are near schools, kids do a lot of impulse buying of snacks. And the average impulse snack purchase made by kids amounts to 350 calories…that’s a kid sized meal!

I also enjoyed learning about the research that shows that promoting body dissatisfaction in overweight or obese adolescent girls just leads to weight gain and a higher risk of eating disorders. Making girls (or anyone) feel bad about their bodies is not an effective weight control strategy.

Women’s Health

A talk on energy expenditure and menopause prompted groans from the middle aged women in the audience. The take home message is that perimenopausal women who want to prevent weight gain will, on average, need to eat 100-200 calories less a day than what they are used to eating, and will need to exercise more. The average perimenopausal woman will have a waist increase of 6% but that increase will then plateau when menopause is reached. However, the presenter mentioned that we do get smarter as we get older, and enlightenment is far more important than waist size!

There was a presentation on why the term “ideal weight” is outdated. The proposal is to use the term “best weight” – which means a weight you can actually achieve and maintain while enjoying a healthy lifestyle. Those researchers have got my vote on that one!

Physical Activity Over the Years

Researchers are looking at level of physical activity in countries around the world – physical activity has decreased and TV time has increased over time in all countries. We are sitting more and moving less. Another interesting physical activity statistic is that in 1969, half of kids in the US walked or biked to school. Currently, that number is at 14%.

Dietary Trends

As a nation, Americans are drinking less milk but are drinking more sweetened milk (e.g. chocolate milk). Also, when we look at the nutrient composition of school lunches, the sugar and saturated fat is the same as in fast food restaurants.

There were also presentations on how challenging it is to maintain weight loss. Particularly after you lose 10% of your body weight, the body fights very hard to regain the weight. People want food more, they become very responsive to food (i.e. lots of cravings), and their level of restraint decreases. This is not psychological – it is physiological. Our appetites go up and our metabolic rates go down as our bodies try to regain the lost weight.

There was so much more of interest but let’s me sum up by saying that our biology and our environment makes weight loss difficult and there is no magic pill to treat overweight and obesity. Sustainable changes along with moderate weight loss that can be maintained is really the goal.