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Researchers Seek to Debunk Common Myths About Obesity

Tom Morello/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many beliefs about obesity exist despite evidence of the contrary.  Researchers have identified seven obesity-related "myths" and six presumptions and sought to disprove them with previously documented studies.

The researchers, led by Dr. David Allison of the University of Alabama, noted one common belief -- that setting high weight-loss goals will lead to failure -- is false.

"It turns out that on average there is very little association or correlation between how ambitious a person's goals are, or how unrealistic their goals are, how much weight they lose, how happy they become, or whether or not they drop out," Allison said.

Other obesity myths highlighted in the study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, are as follows:

1. Small sustained changes in energy intake or expenditures will produce large, long-term weight changes.

"If I'm going to lose weight over time, just by walking an extra 30 minutes a day -- after a while I'm going to vanish. That doesn't make any sense," Allison says.

2. Large, rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight outcomes than is slow, gradual weight loss.

3. Assessing the stage of change or diet readiness is important in helping patients who seek weight-loss treatment.

4. Physical education classes in their current format play an important role in preventing or reducing childhood obesity.

5. Breast-feeding is protective against obesity.

6. Sexual activity burns 100 to 300 calories for each person involved.

The researchers also confront six common presumptions about obesity that they say may not be accurate.

1. Regularly eating (vs. skipping) breakfast is protective against obesity.

2. Early childhood is the period during which we learn exercise and eating habits that influence our weight throughout life.

But Allison says genes may be a stronger indicator of weight throughout life. Obese kids do not necessarily turn into obese adults.

"It turns out that the correlation is actually fairly small if you go from early childhood all the way to adulthood. And more over, that correlation doesn't mean that it was the same behaviors that one did as a child that carry over. It may simply mean that you have the same genes," Allison says.

3. Eating more fruits and vegetables will results in weight loss or less weight gain, regardless of whether one intentionally makes any other behavioral or environmental changes.

4. Weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, is associated with increased mortality.

5. Snacking contributes to weight gain and obesity.

6. The built environment, in terms of sidewalk and park availability, influences obesity.

All of these myths and presumptions, according to Allison and colleagues, stem from attempts by experts and physicians to help the growing obesity problem in the United States.

"We know that obesity is a very big problem. There are easily at least 50 million obese people in the United States today. And we need to do something to help," Allison says, adding, "Public health experts, academics, government regulators, clinicians in their zeal to help people are sometimes grasping at straws and trying to just promote any idea that seems like a good idea."

But the study authors agree that every individual should lose weight by trying find what works best for them.

"By dispelling some of these myths, we hope that people have a better ability to go find out what does work, and then try things that have been shown to work, or at least might work and haven't been shown not to work," Allison says.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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