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Focus On Health

Americans spend nearly 60 billion dollars a year supporting the private weight-loss industry in the pursuit of elusive physical perfection. As we all know, most diets invariably fail and those endeavoring to achieve the trimmer, leaner, ready-for-the-beach body are inevitably frustrated and disappointed. The incredible variety of fad diets and “miracle” weight loss supplements allow individuals to try a different strategy month-after-month, year-after-year in the hope of discovering the one solution that “works.” Underlying the persistent and pervasive culture of dieting is the seemingly sensible assumption that weight loss itself is a desirable end in and of itself because, it is presumed, thin is not only in but more healthful. However, a study recently published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that this common belief is not only off-the-mark but scientifically unfounded.

The study’s two authors, Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor analyzed data from over 200 studies to conclude that the emphasis on weight loss by health professionals is entirely skewed by anecdotal assumptions about body size as it relates to overall health. According to Bacon’s interpretation of the findings, “When the data are reconsidered without the common assumption that fat is harmful, it is overwhelmingly apparent that fat has been highly exaggerated as a risk for disease or decreased longevity.”

Focus on Health, Not Weight LossThose individuals struggling to adhere to the latest diet can take some comfort in the study’s findings which indicate a “weight-focused approach does not, in the long run, produce thinner, healthier bodies.” Aphramor believes that the diet industry and the public’s obsession with body image have resulted in unintended negative consequences such as anxiety, reduced self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, guilt, cyclic weight loss and gain, and eating disorders.

Bacon and Aphramor believe that health care professionals need to adopt a more scientific, evidence-based methodology to managing their patients’ health. Rather than reflexively instructing individuals to focus on weight loss, individuals should be encouraged to develop healthy habits. According to the research, altering one’s health behaviors can result major health improvements, such as lowered blood pressure and blood lipids along with a greater sense of self-esteem and positive body image without the anxiety and disappointment associated with weight-focused approaches to physical and mental well-being.

If more individuals and health professionals heed the message of this study, perhaps the powerful influences of a media and culture obsessed with rail-thin celebrities and models will diminish slightly. The more we learn to be comfortable with whom we are and how we look the better it will be for our overall well-being. As this study indicates, being healthy is not about what you weigh the size of your body, but making the kind of choices that promote a healthy lifestyle.