Debunking these 3 myths of obesity management

Deconstructing obesity myths

For decades, people blamed obesity on the individual as the sum of poor life choices — or even dismissed it as a simple cosmetic condition. That’s a mass oversimplification. The reality is, hundreds of factors contribute to obesity. Genetics, environment, stress, diet, and hormones all play a part — and that’s just scratching the surface.

The confusion around obesity management doesn’t help dispel the myths and stigmas. Despite it all, one thing is clear: obesity is a complex and highly-individualized disease that impacts millions of Americans. And it’s only getting worse.

Over 40% of Americans have obesity. In every state in America, at least 20% of the adult population has obesity. These stats are even more concerning considering obesity is a big risk factor for costly diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer.

Proper obesity management requires that healthcare and benefits leaders understand what obesity is, but it also requires an understanding of what obesity isn’t. Popular myths about obesity can work against progress in population health.

Consider these common myths below. Have these influenced your approach to treating — or not treating — obesity in your population? Understanding the realities of obesity management is the first step to improving overall health and reducing care costs in your organization.

Myth #1 – Calories in/calories out is all it takes

Complex calories? Healthy fats? Calorie deficits? With each new fad diet, you’ve probably heard about conflicting information from magazines and food blogs over the years.

It’s a very common belief that creating a calorie deficit — burning more calories than you eat — is all it takes to lose weight. If only it were that simple. This obesity myth comes from the “3500 calorie rule,” which, for many years, dictated the public’s understanding of weight loss. As it turns out, not everyone responds to calorie cuts the same way.

Reality: All calories are not created equal.

Nutritionists used to divide carbohydrates into “simple” and “complex,” but experts no longer believe that. Now, they know that “simple” carbs could come in the form of an apple or a bag of chips. However, the nutritional quality of the two are very different.

Similarly, fats used to be seen as having no place in a healthy diet. In recent years, though, experts have recognized healthy fats. Dietary needs and weight loss regiments are complicated. They’re highly personal. That’s why getting people a personalized obesity management option can make or break their success.

Myth #2 – Obesity is a choice

Many people judge excessive weight gain as a sort of personal failing. But science tells a different story. Years of research proves that obesity is highly complex and doesn’t just boil down to simple choices. A person’s metabolism alone is highly individualized, and that’s to say nothing of genetics, hormones, and environmental factors.

Reality: Obesity is a disease.

In 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) classified obesity as a disease. Now it’s time we treat it as such. The AMA’s conclusion isn’t a condemnation, but a relief. Accurately describing obesity with this medical diagnosis means that millions of Americans can now get the care they need.

Continuing to wrongly call obesity solely a behavioral choice shortchanges people’s options for care.

“Thinking obesity is simply a choice is an unfortunate belief I often hear,” Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford of Harvard University shared. “It’s really entrenched in the biases we have for those who have excess weight. It’s something we really need to undo as we begin to respect this group as we do with all other groups that have a chronic disease.”

Labeling obesity as a disease increases financial support, available resources, and societal attitudes. It offers a pathway for more research into causes — both environmental and genetic — for obesity overall. It changes the dynamic for health plans, providers, and individuals to approach health and weight loss.

Myth #3 – Everyone gets the same hunger cues

It seems like common sense that the more you eat, the more you weigh. We’ve already debunked that “calories in/calories out” is a realistic weight loss approach. So what compels someone to eat more calories than not in a day? It’s not as simple as you’d think.

Reality: The central nervous system regulates weight.

The central nervous system controls both appetite and weight, but it’s pretty complicated. The brain oversees internal and external outputs to try and achieve energy balance. The central nervous system takes factors like reward, emotion, attention, and cognitive control systems into account when processing its options.

This myth about obesity can be harmful for a number of reasons. Mainly, obesity is something people do to themselves. The implications of that “choice” can really impact care pathways and how providers treat obesity as a whole.

America’s obesity epidemic requires an honest approach

A complex issue requires diverse solutions

Both internal conditions and environment influence people living with obesity. Diet and exercise aren’t the end-all-be-all to weight loss. In reality, biology, economic status, social environment, and relationship to physical activity all contribute to obesity.

Lots of internal factors influence how many calories you consume and burn. Delayed fullness, hyper-sensitivity to food cues, and disordered eating habits can all affect how much food someone consumes. How much energy they expend can be influenced by physical disabilities, age-related changes, or genetic factors.

External factors also play a large part. Portion sizes and food advertising are just a few contributors to increased calorie intake. People can be affected by societal stigmas and their environment. Output might be reduced through labor-saving devices or stages of life (such as new parents).

Combining GLP-1s, consistent care, and lifestyle adjustments

Genetics, environment, development, and behavior all affect obesity. A multi-faceted disease requires a diverse solution. Lifestyle changes, medications, nor provider support alone can reduce obesity in a person or population.

Instead, lifestyle modifications, prescriptions, and care providers play interconnected roles in addressing obesity. Obesity management means offering your people access to medication, affordable care, and sustainable outcomes.

At Vida Health, our obesity management is centered on these things. Our outcomes reflect members who address environmental factors, create lasting behavioral change, and have streamlined access to specialists. Members can step up or down their treatment options, depending on their needs for medications and specialist intervention. This high-touch program is tailored for an individualized experience to meet personal goals.

Consistent care is key to avoiding weight cycling, where outcomes yo-yo back and forth as people struggle to maintain results. This phenomenon is also known to have a negative impact on cardiometabolic health, a huge driver in care costs. With cardiometabolic health declining, people are at even greater risk for co-occurring conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and more.

By unpacking the myths of obesity management, you’ll be better prepared to offer viable and meaningful options. Make a difference in your population’s weight management by offering comprehensive and collaborative cardiometabolic care.

Return to Resource Library