Case Against Fad Diets for Weight Loss

February 2003 - Voicing strong opposition to any weight loss approach that fails to take into account overall health considerations, The American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), the nation's premier organization of physicians specializing in disease prevention and health promotion, released a position statement opposing popular fad diets as a means for losing weight. The College announced the release of the statement at the conclusion of its 2003 Annual Meeting.

ACPM is a professional society representing approximately 2,000 physicians worldwide. Members include both clinicians and public health officials who are engaged in the medical specialty of preventive medicine.

In its statement, the College takes particular exception to the popular Atkins Diet, which restricts carbohydrates and recommends calorie intake principally from all varieties of fat and protein. "Of course, the Atkins Diet can produce weight loss in the short term, and it can lower cholesterol," says Dr. David L. Katz, a member of the ACPM Board of Regents and Director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine.

"It achieves its results by restricting calories, as do all fad diets. People can attain rapid weight loss and lower cholesterol by eliminating any entire food category from their diets, but that doesn't mean it's good for them. Serious illness such as AIDS and cancer tend to cause weight and cholesterol to plummet, but clearly these are not desirable for health."

The ACPM statement points out that a great deal is known about the dietary pattern or range of patterns that best promotes human health in the long term. These healthy diets are rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, with very limited calories from saturated and trans fats. "These characteristics of a health-promoting diet are very much at odds with the Atkins Diet, and many other popular weight loss diets," explains Dr. Katz. "We have evidence as well that the very dietary pattern that promotes health, in conjunction with regular physical activity, is the best means of producing sustainable weight loss, and even preventing diabetes."

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According to ACPM President Dr. Dorothy Lane, Associate Dean at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine, the ACPM feels it has a responsibility to address the fad diet issue because it is directly related to a primary mission of the College--the promotion of good health in the general population. "The members of the College feel it is our responsibility to address this issue now, because we see fad diets as a dangerous distraction from healthful means of achieving weight control, and therefore a genuine threat to the public health," Dr. Lane says.

Dr. Katz goes on to explain that there are only two reasonable approaches to controlling the obesity epidemic in the United States, and neither one involves throwing out all that we know about nutrition and health in favor of fads. "We live in an environment that makes it easy, if not irresistible, to be sedentary and to overeat. We either need to change this environment, or empower people with the specific skills and strategies they need to overcome its challenges so they can achieve a healthful diet and weight control. Neither is easy, but both are achievable. And unlike fad diets, these approaches will protect and promote the public's health," he says.

Source: ACPM