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Endocr Pract. 1995 Sep-Oct;1(5):353-64.

Obesity treatment: examining the premises.

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  • 1Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10025, USA.


Five basic premises underlie the recommendation that obese persons should lose weight: (1) obesity is physically unhealthy; (2) in obese persons, weight loss improves physical health; (3) long-term weight loss is possible; (4) the benefits of weight loss exceed the costs; and (5) weight loss is superior to or can add incrementally to the effects of alternative methods of improving the health and happiness of obese persons. Although the data are occasionally ambiguous, they generally support these premises. Obesity apparently causes increased morbidity and decreased longevity, even after controlling for many plausible confounding factors. Clinical studies consistently show that weight loss reduces morbidity. No adequate data exist on which to evaluate the effects of weight loss on mortality among obese persons. Additional data are needed, but long-term weight loss seems possible, although such losses remain difficult to maintain. A crude estimate is that about 20% of obese persons who attempt to lose weight can achieve and maintain a clinically meaningful weight loss. The short-term health and psychologic costs of gradual weight loss are minor, manageable, and easily surpassed by the short-term health and psychologic benefits. Long-term effects of weight loss on mortality are difficult to judge, and further research is needed. Weight loss can add incrementally to the effects of alternative methods to improve health and happiness among obese persons. Thus, these "alternatives" are better termed "complementary approaches," and their use need not preclude attempts at weight loss. Finally, we provide several guidelines to help practitioners assist obese persons in making reasonable informed decisions about weight loss.

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