ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2012) — Overweight and obese individuals can achieve a decade’s worth of important health benefits by losing just 20 pounds, even if they regain the weight later that decade, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention. With a focus on psychology’s role in overcoming the national obesity epidemic, the session also examined research that indicates foods high in sugar and fat could have addictive properties.
In the Diabetes Prevention Program, a national study of 3,000 overweight people with impaired glucose tolerance, patients were shown how to change their behavior rather than given drugs. The program shows that even modest weight loss, an average of 14 pounds, reduced people’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
What’s more, the health benefits of this weight loss lasted up to 10 years, even if people gained the weight back over this time.
Participants in the program practiced basic behavioral strategies to help them lose weight, including tracking everything they ate and reducing the amount of unhealthy foods they kept in their home. They also met with coaches frequently and increased their physical activity over the course of the study.
“Helping people find ways to change their eating and activity behaviors and developing interventions other than medication to reinforce a healthy lifestyle have made a huge difference in preventing one of the major health problems in this country,” said researcher Rena Wing. “Weight losses of just 10 percent of a person’s body weight (or about 20 pounds in those who weigh 200 pounds) have also been shown to have a long-term impact on sleep apnea, hypertension and quality of life, and to slow the decline in mobility that occurs as people age.”
Wing is now leading a 13-year trial of 5,000 people with Type 2 diabetes. This study is testing whether an intensive behavioral intervention can decrease the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. “We are trying to show that behavior changes not only make people healthier in terms of reducing heart disease risk factors but actually can make them live longer,” she said.
Changing food policy is another prevention approach where behavioral science is addressing the U.S. obesity epidemic, according to Kelly Brownell, PhD, of Yale University. “The primary question is whether foods, particularly those high in sugar, act on the brain in ways that create signs of addiction,” Brownell said. “Craving and withdrawal signs can be seen in animal and human brain imaging studies conducted by investigators around the world. This could fundamentally change the debate about diet, nutrition and obesity in this country.”
If foods have addictive properties, policymakers might be spurred to create laws that would set limits on certain nutrients in food and curtail advertising of these types of foods to children, he said.
Dr. Jonny comments:
It’s good to see these psychologists joining the national discussion about obesity and weight, and it’s particularly gratifying to hear them address the very real issue of food addiction.
As David Kessler’s excellent book, “The End of Overeating” points out, food manufacturers deliberately “engineer” their foods with precise, scientifically determined layers of fat, salt and sugar so as to make them “super-palatable”, or, in plain language, addictive. It’s no accident that one of the most truthful marketing campaigns for food used the slogan “Betcha can’t eat just one”. That’s because you can’t. The foods that are making you fat—and are killing you in the process- have been deliberately designed to be impossible to resist.
Our “Unleash Your Thin” program spends a great deal of time on the issue of food addiction, and has a specific action plan to break the compulsions associated with irresistible foods—the same foods that make you sick, fat, tired and depressed. Without changing your relationship to these addictive foods, weight loss becomes next to impossible. That’s why “reprograming your brain” to respond differently to the foods that sabotage your best efforts is at the core of the “Unleash Your Thin” program.
Good to see that the idea of food addiction is finally getting the serious attention it deserves.