LA Times Confused About Science

bad scienceThe LA Times ran a headline in their science section that read “Diets work, but brands don’t make much difference, study finds”

It goes on to talk about a meta analysis that found:

Low-carb diets were linked to 8.73 kilograms of lost weight (19.25 pounds) at 6 months, and 7.25 kg (15.98 pounds) at 12 months. The low-fat diets were close behind, with 7.99 kg (17.61 pounds) lost in the first half-year and 7.27 kg (16.03 pounds) at the one-year mark.

The careful observer will note that at some point between 6 months and 12 months weight loss turned to weight gain.  This isn’t a surprise, it’s what the long term studies of weight loss tell us – almost everyone on almost any diet can lose weight in the short term, and almost everyone gains it back in the long-term with many regaining more than they lost regardless of whether they keep their diet behaviors going or not. It’s one of the reasons why most weight loss studies (many of which are funded by weight loss companies) don’t go beyond a year or two.  When confronted by the FTC about this, weight loss industry reps said that they wouldn’t do long term studies because it would be “too depressing” for their clients.  I love the smell of for-profit “science” in the morning.

I don’t believe that weight loss should be used as a medical intervention at all, but even if doctor’s believe that it should they are still going about it in a way that doesn’t make any sense. What they’re doing at this point is the equivalent of prescribing a pill for a diagnosis that 60% of the population has, that has been shown in every long term study to work short term, but in the long term return the patient to their original sick state, making the majority more sick than they were within 5 years., then telling those who “failed” long-term (which is almost everyone) that they just need to try harder at not being sick because the treatment worked for 6 months so there’s no possible way that it can’t work forever or could stop working.  That’s not even in the same galaxy as the ethical  practice of medicine.  Again, I agree with the AMA Council on Science and Health that body size isn’t a disease,.my argument is that even if doctor’s believe it is a disease, recommending weight loss does not constitute the ethical practice of evidence-based medicine. Of course the study authors don’t agree, they claim:

This supports the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight,”

Except it doesn’t, it support the practice of recommending any diet plan if the goal is for the patient to lose weight for 6 months and then start gaining it back. And here is the problem with weight loss research:  Studies show that weight loss doesn’t work long term but study authors just go ahead and say that it does.

Sometimes it’s a study where more than 2/3 of participants dropped out and the rest lost an average of 2 pounds. Sometimes it’s Weight Watchers own studies finding that the average client loses 10 pounds in the first year and gains back 5 in the second year, and their chief scientist calls that “validation” of what they are doing. Today it’s these chuckleheads finding, clearly,  that most people lose weight in the first 6 months and start gaining it back in the next 6 months and saying that supports the practice of recommending diets to patients (and I’m not even getting into the fact that this is based on the untested and scientifically challenged hypothesis that weight loss will lead to better health.) The obesity epi-panic is so completely out of control that scientists grossly misconstrue their findings, and the LA times puts in in the science section.

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15 thoughts on “LA Times Confused About Science

  1. my favorite part of this is that they think “weight loss success!*” means losing sixteen pounds & taking a year to do it.

    the pointlessness of their crowing cannot be exaggerated [ie: *exclamation point theirs, if regally & relentlessly implied].

  2. I’ve seen weight loss as a cure to ill health…a friend of mine lost about 115 pounds over the past two years, and it cured a lot of her health woes. In the process she discovered she loved running, so yes, it IS possible.

    Sadly, that’s the exception, not the rule, but somehow that doesn’t translate to the medical community at large. I was talking to another friend yesterday who is actually on a medically prescribed diet pill and was saying how she had no appetite and so much energy that she couldn’t sleep. Even water tasted bad to her sometimes because of the dry mouth. She kept listing symptoms but not any “success” in weight loss.

    …does anyone see a giant disconnect here?? Or at least…more questions than answers??

    1. Did losing 115 pounds cure a lot of your friend’s health woes? Or was it maybe the behavior changes she adopted that cured her issues, with the weight loss as a side effect?

      I certainly agree with the rest of your comment. Something has to give here.

    2. Your friend may indeed be the exception — but (for me at least) the regain always kicked in around the third year. I think the often-cited “95 percent regain at least all they lost, with 40 percent regaining more” is calculated at five years out.

      I never lost as much as your friend — my largest lost was 68 pounds. That stayed off for two years and then started coming back, with no change in my eating or exercise habits, in year three. And I ended up gaining about 85 pounds, that time. My other WL experiences (20 pounds, 27 pounds, 30 pounds, 45 pounds) all also resulted in long-term gains of much more than I’d lost. The upshot is that I’m 85 pounds heavier than I was at age 18 when my doctor suggested that I should lose 10 pounds and I lost 20.

  3. I just hate all of this endless “obesity epidemic” fear-mongering. The body policing and shaming is sometimes too much to take. Intellectually, I know everything you say is true, and yet it’s exhausting to fight the external messages that I’m lazy, and don’t take care of myself because I don’t conform to a specific body type or the popular idea of “fit.” My body shape is an apple. I go to Zumba classes 4 days a week (LOVE ZUMBA!!) and eat healthy. I DO take care of myself! I exercise to feel good and have more energy and focus. And I do. I’m so tired of the “You must not care about yourself if you’re not willing to go on a diet,” especially from so-called men. I’m trying to accept my body the way it is right now, but it’s so hard when so many are telling me I should hate it.

  4. I’m on Weight Watchers online. I am online friends with the most wonderful, diligent, intelligent, industrious, energetic people anywhere. I hesitate about leaving this online treasure-trove of people who are prime examples of amazing. Everyday is a struggle for all of us, for even the WW superstars, because we end up falling back on our resolve eventually. We are injured, get sick, or life happens. We have to focus on weight loss and food every minute of our days. People who say, “I just watch what I eat and exercise.” don’t have a clue as to what a large person has to go through to lose weight and keep it off. “Normal” people don’t have to do weight loss into infinity. The “experts” have no idea what they are talking about. That’s why they scream, blame, feel contempt for, vilify, criticize, and do endless chaotic “research” on weight gain. They are completely ignorant of the entire matter of weight. It makes the pseudo-experts feel as if they are doing something. Calling people lazy, stupid, non-compliant (my personal favorite), or greedy is as handy as saying that an ailment is all in one’s head when a medical doctor can’t make a diagnosis.

    1. What jumped out at me from your comment is: We have to focus on weight loss and food every minute of our days.

      THAT is precisely what led me to throw in the towel on weight loss. I decided that was an insane way to live. Now I eat what I want when I want it and surprise, surprise I have not gained an ounce. The best thing though is the total freedom from weighing, measuring,, counting calories or points or carbs or whatever, planning, shopping and obsessing about food all the time.

      Almost the minute I stepped off the weight loss merry go round all of that went away. It was and is an incredibly freeing experience. But everyone has to decide for themselves. I do encourage my friends who are unhappy with their bodies to just try it for a month, or two or three and see how they feel. So far, no one else has and I don’t bug them or bring it up again. But until I started reading this blog I didn’t even realize that was an option.

      1. Same here! Well, and I was sick of the yoyo aspect of calorie counting because it’s just not something I can maintain for too long (I’m talking years by too long, I can do it for months, a year, maybe even 2, but eventually I’m going to get overwhelmed.) So for a long time I counted calories, got too tired of all the work of that and stopped, then went back to counting calories, and on and on. And that kind of back and forth just is not worth it.
        And it does make me obsess and thing about food ALL the time too. When I just focus on eating well, I’m not thinking about food all the time. But counting calories ends up making everything seem to revolve around it, all I can think about food and calories. (Actually wrote a whole blog post on hating calorie counting, lol, if anyone is interested in more on my experiences and thoughts: Which was inspired when I ended up counting calories again for a bit- not for weight loss, but because I was trying to tack and increase my protein intake which by default lead to calories as well, and sort of the struggle with that.)

      2. Years ago, I read a blog by a woman who I think is in that 5% that manage to maintain a significant weight loss over several years. It was about her day-to-day routine, which, as you might guess, revolves completely around maintaining her weight loss. She compared her weight maintenance to a full-time job, and said she considered herself very lucky that her actual job was part-time and flexible enough to allow her to dedicate herself to this routine.

        Reading that was when I became absolutely, positively sure that even if I were physiologically capable of being in that 5%, if that’s what it takes, I don’t want to be. There is nothing wrong with working part-time, but I’m studying to be a physician; at least until I’m done with residency, that’s a full-time-plus commitment, and one that means a million times more to me than a number on a scale ever could. If I ever do choose to work part time (which I doubt I will, since I’m kind of a workaholic) it’ll be so I can raise my children, not so I can do exercise videos alone in my living room while wearing a weighted vest like this woman does (the way she described it made it sound like one of the most joyless forms of exercise a human being could possibly engage in). Even if dedicating myself to weight loss would add ten extra years onto my life (which it wouldn’t, according to the research, but just theoretically), I don’t WANT those ten more years if it means I can’t enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my family without obsessing over the calorie count of everything on the table, or that I can’t travel because it would interfere with my diet and exercise regimen too much, or that I can’t have a late night out talking and laughing with friends because getting less than seven hours of sleep per night disrupts weight regulation (all things mentioned in this blog). I plan to make the absolute most I can out of my limited time on Earth, and I don’t really care what dress size I’m wearing while I do it.

      3. Yes! My story is this: I was fine with my body until I was around 14, when I decided I needed a diet. Over the next 15 years, I tried to lose weight, obsessed constantly over food and exercise and instead steadily gained weight. Around 5 years ago, I decided I was done with that, and since then, my weight has remained constant.

    2. “People who say, ‘I just watch what I eat and exercise.’ don’t have a clue as to what a large person has to go through to lose weight and keep it off. ”

      Very true. Lots of people just do not get that not all bodies work the same. Two people the same age, gender, and height with the same diet and fitness activities will not automatically have the same bodies and weight. I get annoyed when I hear folks talk about how they just started walking a few miles a week a lots so much weight! Good for you! But even when I was walking several hours a day everyday (because it was my primary means of transportation), I didn’t lose weight from it. I don’t walk as much now, since I no longer live somewhere where I can get by just walking places, but I still walk and run regularly. Just because something caused you to lose weight doesn’t mean it will work the same for me.

  5. I must have misread the findings – did they not say, more than 8 pounds lost after 6 months and another 7 pounds lost in the next 6 months? That is how I read that. Still not a longterm study, still no proof that diets work – and 15 pounds alltogether in a year – well, you would not even see those 15 pounds less on me.

    1. They are listing the total weight lost at each interval, not additional weight lost in the second 6 months. The standard for these studies is to test the diet for 6 months and then “follow up” at 12 months. So when they say “The low-fat diets were close behind, with 7.99 kg (17.61 pounds) lost in the first half-year and 7.27 kg (16.03 pounds) at the one-year mark.” What they mean is that at 6 months they had 17.61 pounds of total weight loss, and at 12 months they had 16.03 pounds – they had already started to regain their weight at 12 months. ((I wasn’t sure about this either so I went to the analysis and checked before I posted this just to be sure.)


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