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New Obesity Strategy Targets Energy Balance

New Obesity Strategy Is NecessaryIn the war on obesity, University of Colorado researchers say the nation needs a new battle plan — a strategy directed at helping people obtain the correct “energy balance.”

The new approach would replace the existing focus on widespread food restriction and weight loss, and place an emphasis helping people find a healthy body weight that matches caloric intake to caloric expenditure.

In a paper published in the journal Circulation, James O. Hill, Ph.D., and colleagues take on the debate over whether excessive food intake or insufficient physical activity cause obesity. The researchers use a concept of energy balance which combines food intake, energy expended through physical activity and energy (fat) storage.

They believe the body’s natural tendency is to preserve weight and that a weight loss strategy must overcome this inherent state.

Researchers say this is accomplished by strategies that match food and beverage intake to a higher level of energy expenditure than is typical in America today, enabling the biological system that regulates body weight to work more effectively.

Additional support for this concept comes from many studies showing that higher levels of physical activity are associated with low weight gain whereas comparatively low levels of activity are linked to high weight gain over time.

“A healthy body weight is best maintained with a higher level of physical activity than is typical today and with an energy intake that matches,” explained Hill.

“We are not going to reduce obesity by focusing only on reducing food intake. Without increasing physical activity in the population we are simply promoting unsustainable levels of food restriction. This strategy hasn’t worked so far and it is not likely to work in the future.

As Hill said, “What we are really talking about is changing the message from ‘Eat Less, Move More’ to ‘Move More, Eat Smarter.'”

Keeping the weight off, rather than taking it off after it has be added, is a key strategy to weight management. For example, researchers stress that reducing calorie intake by 100 calories a day would prevent weight gain in 90 percent of the adult population and is achievable through small increases in physical activity and small changes in food intake.

Nevertheless, moving more, rather than eating less, is the best answer for weight control.

People who have a low level of physical activity have trouble achieving energy balance because they must constantly use food restriction to match energy intake to a low level of energy expenditure.

Constant food restriction is difficult to maintain long-term and when it cannot be maintained, the result is positive energy balance (when the calories consumed are greater than the calories expended) and an increase in body mass, of which 60 percent to 80 percent is usually body fat.

Using an exhaustive review of the energy balance literature as the basis, the researchers also refuted the popular theory that escalating obesity rates can be attributed exclusively to two factors — the change in the American diet and the rise in overall energy intake without a compensatory increase in energy expenditure.

Using rough estimates of increases in food intake and decreases in physical activity from 1971 to 2000, the researchers calculated that were it not for the physiological processes that produce energy balance, American adults would have experienced a 30- to 80-fold increase in weight gain during that period, which demonstrates why it is not realistic to attribute obesity solely to caloric intake or physical activity levels.

Howwever, experts are in agreement that our energy expenditure has dropped dramatically over the past century as our lives now require much less physical activity just to get through the day.

The University of Colorado researchers argue that this drop in energy expenditure was a necessary prerequisite for the current obesity problem, which necessitates adding a greater level of physical activity back into our modern lives.

“Addressing obesity requires attention to both food intake and physical activity, said co-author John Peters, Ph.D. “Strategies that focus on either alone will not likely work.”

Looking at things from a slightly different perspective, food restriction alone is not effective in reducing obesity.

This is explained by the fact that although caloric restriction produces weight loss, this process triggers hunger and the body’s natural defense to preserve existing body weight, which leads to a lower resting metabolic rate and notable changes in how the body burns calories.

This explains why individuals often plateau on their weight loss and then regain the pounds they had just lost.

Recognizing that energy balance is a new concept for to the public, the researchers call for educational efforts and new information tools that will teach Americans about energy balance and how food and physical activity choices affect energy balance.

Source: University of Colorado Denver

Man weighing self photo by shutterstock.

New Obesity Strategy Targets Energy Balance

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). New Obesity Strategy Targets Energy Balance. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Jul 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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