Obesity problems best treated with long-term approach

It’s time to get ready for swimsuit season — a reality few adults like. But people with medically significant obesity have more important reasons to lose weight than simply looking good in warm-weather clothes.

Samuel Klein
Samuel Klein

At the University’s Weight Management Program, patients receive assistance from a team of doctors, behavior therapists, registered dietitians and exercise specialists who tailor weight management and exercise programs to help patients lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles.

The center’s new director, Denise Wilfley, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, is an expert in behavior therapy for obesity.

She is joined by Robinson Welch, Ph.D., the new behavior therapy director. They join Samuel Klein, M.D., and J. Christopher Eagon, M.D., the center’s medical and surgical directors.

“For many people who are significantly overweight, the problem is primarily behavioral,” Wilfley said. “We try to identify the barriers that prevent people from being more active and eating fewer calories and adopting a healthier lifestyle. Unless we can help people make long-term changes in behavior, we can’t help them. Obesity is a very serious problem that seems to be getting worse in our society, but with the right treatment, it is possible even for very obese people to lose weight and get healthier.”

Medically significant obesity means having a body weight that is more than 20 percent above normal. The reason it is called medically significant obesity is that weighing that much puts people at risk for cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure. It also decreases quality of life.

Almost two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and that figure is growing — in both size and number.

“More than one of every three Americans has medically significant obesity,” said Klein, the Danforth Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Sciences and director of the University’s Center for Human Nutrition. “In the past several years, the prevalence of obesity in adults in the United States has continued to increase, in spite of more and more research about the dangers of being overweight. The obesity problem has become a major public-health crisis.”

The University’s program is an outpatient program that uses the most current information to help patients lose weight safely. It also reduces long-term risks of obesity-related diseases by providing group classes, medical monitoring and nutrition and exercise education seminars. Individual counseling sessions and long-term maintenance are also included.

Patients in the program are taught how to lose weight and how to maintain their weight loss. The program sets modest, realistic goals for patients because research has shown that even moderate weight loss of 5 percent to 10 percent can result in considerable health benefits for those with medically significant obesity.

Many who lose weight tend to regain those pounds over time. Physical activity is particularly important in sustaining weight loss, so even participants who are extremely overweight are required to moderately exercise.

For those who have great difficulty losing weight in spite of that assistance, the program also offers surgical alternatives. These include minimally invasive, laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery to patients who are very obese, especially those who have developed medical complications from obesity.

According to Klein, it makes little sense to treat obesity with a program that ends after only a few weeks or months; a long-term program is critical for long-term success.

“Obesity is a chronic disease, and giving short-term therapy is not going to be effective,” Klein said. “We would never think of treating a diabetic with insulin for four months and then stopping the therapy. We need to treat obesity in the same way.”

To learn more about the Weight Management Program, call 286-2080.