Monday, September 15, 2014

Is One DIet Program Better Than Another for Weight Loss?

As a doctor, the Population Health Blog was often asked by overnourished patients to help find a "best" diet.  Its advice to simply eat less and skip desert, however, was insufficient to overcome the commercial programs' allure of word-of-mouth, dubious advertising and fanciful on-line marketing . As a result, many desperate PHB patients fell into closed loops of pseudoscience, anecdotal testimonials and expertly crafted statements "not evaluated by the FDA."

As a population-health skeptic, the outcomes-focused PHB was never convinced that one commercial diet plan was "better" than any other.  Not only are excess calories very efficiently turned into corpulence by a very efficient human metabolism, it didn't make sense that that persons could eat their way to weight loss with more [insert one of the following: protein, fat, fiber, pre-packaged meals or vitamins].  Last but not least, if all these commercial weight loss outfits spent a tenth of their marketing budget on real science, the PHB may have had the evidence it needed to make a recommendation.

Well, a meta-analysis of "Named" (you'd recognize the brands) diet program outcomes has been published in JAMA and the results are decidedly unimpressive.  The good news is that all of the household-name programs result in modest weight loss compared to no diet.  The bad news is that the loss of two to six pounds for each program was no better or worse compared to the others.

The PHB's take?  It's up to the consumer to weigh their personal preferences for one type of diet plan vs. another.  In addition, out-of-pocket costs may also play a role in helping sustain the dieter's motivation in getting their money' worth. 

Beyond those two considerations, however, it's just a matter of eating less calories, not more of the latest nutritional fad.

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