Adult obesity in the US is becoming a serious problem. Two-thirds of US adults are classified as overweight or obese. With this comes the risk of serious health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and hypertension.
Studies have shown that if a person loses approximately 3-5% of their bodyweight, the risk of developing these conditions is reduced.
Joining a weight loss program can be instrumental in the ability of an individual to commit to and succeed at losing weight. However, with so many different programs available, it can be difficult to find a program that’s effective.
There has been growing concern about the lack of regulation in the weight loss industry. Weight loss programs do not need to “prove” their methods or back them up with scientific research. In order to identify how this could affect consumers, researchers at John Hopkins recently completed an investigative study into the reliability of weight loss programs.
5 criteria for a reliable weight loss program
191 different weight loss programs were analyzed for the study. The researchers identified five key areas that make up a reliable weight loss program. Each program was given a score based upon the following criteria:
- Program intensity – weight loss programs should contain more than 14 sessions in a 6 month period.
- Dietary change – diet programs should recommend a moderate calorie deficit using an evidence-based named diet and/or provide meal replacements.
- Physical activity – physical activity should be encouraged in addition to changing your diet.
- Behavior modification – tracking weight loss with meal planning, food tracking and/or exercise tracking can help keep consumers focused.
- Supplement use – there is little empirical evidence into the effectiveness of supplements for losing weight so it should not be a required feature of a weight loss program.
Are you losing weight or just losing money?
One of the problems of unregulated weight loss programs is that there is often little or no scientific evidence to back up the methods involved. There is no cap on the amount that programs can charge consumers to participate in them. This can lead to people paying lots of money for a program that might not be very effective.
Weight loss specialist Kimberley Gudzene who was involved in the study said: “Most programs can cost anywhere between $40 to $600 per month and are not often covered by insurance. And for many consumers, they could lose more weight from their wallets than their waists.”[Source]
Conclusion of the diet & weight loss study
The study found that only 17% of the programs had more than 14 sessions in a 6 month period. Shockingly, only 9% of weight loss programs adhered in some way to weight loss medical guidelines.
75% of programs used dietary change as part of their weight loss technique, but the information given to consumers was often unclear and caused confusion. Only 3% of programs encouraged consumers to partake in 150 minutes or more of physical activity per week.
The future of weight loss programs
There are currently consumer protection laws (regulated by the Federal Trade Commission) that check advertising claims by weight loss programs. However, Gudzene believes that is time to expand on this to better protect consumers from unreliable programs.
If community-based weight loss programs were made to disclose their practices, alongside their compliance with certain safety and effectiveness criteria set by medical organizations, this would allow consumers to be able to make an informed decision about the potential reliability of the program before investing in it.
To prevent the ever-increasing levels of obesity in America, perhaps this would help consumers to select a suitable and achievable program to help them meet their weight loss goals.
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