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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift

Linda Bacon1* and Lucy Aphramor23

Author affiliations

1 University of California, Davis, and City College of San Francisco, Box S-80, City College of San Francisco, 50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112, USA

2 Coventry University, Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 1FB, UK

3 University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, Cardiac Rehab, Cardiology Suite, 1st Floor, East Wing, Walsgrave Hospital, Clifford Bridge Road, Coventry CV2 2DX, UK

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Citation and License

Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:9  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

Published: 24 January 2011

Abstract

Current guidelines recommend that "overweight" and "obese" individuals lose weight through engaging in lifestyle modification involving diet, exercise and other behavior change. This approach reliably induces short term weight loss, but the majority of individuals are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term and do not achieve the putative benefits of improved morbidity and mortality. Concern has arisen that this weight focus is not only ineffective at producing thinner, healthier bodies, but may also have unintended consequences, contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination. This concern has drawn increased attention to the ethical implications of recommending treatment that may be ineffective or damaging. A growing trans-disciplinary movement called Health at Every Size (HAES) challenges the value of promoting weight loss and dieting behavior and argues for a shift in focus to weight-neutral outcomes. Randomized controlled clinical trials indicate that a HAES approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g., blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g., eating and activity habits, dietary quality), and psychosocial outcomes (such as self-esteem and body image), and that HAES achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the contraindications associated with a weight focus. This paper evaluates the evidence and rationale that justifies shifting the health care paradigm from a conventional weight focus to HAES.