Obesity: Providing incentives for losing weight

Obesity: Providing incentives for losing weight

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Intensive medical counseling effective; reimbursement now approved by Medicare

Over the last week, I have been stunned by the incredible number of ads for New Year’s resolution diets, including ones specifically targeting men. I would like to talk about what may and may not work when dealing with weight loss. Obesity has dramatically increased over the last 30 years and now has reached epidemic proportions according to the Centers for Disease Control. By the year 2030, half of the U.S. population is expected to be obese (The Lancet 2011;378:741-748).

Obesity is associated with many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoarthritis and is a major contributor to death (Ann Intern Med 2003;139:933-949).

So, why not start the new year with a positive step in the right direction? One of the top New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. We need to act on this, and Medicare has recently provided an incentive for both patients and physicians. What do I mean by this? Medicare has approved reimbursement for intensive management of obesity by primary care physicians.

What does this include, and what is meant by intensive? Patients who are deemed obese, defined as a BMI (body mass index) >30kg/m2 are eligible for a year’s worth of intensive obesity counseling. This breaks down as follows: weekly visits to the physician for the first month and then every other week for months two through six. If the patient has lost a modest 6.6 pounds, then counseling can continue on a monthly basis for months seven through 12. This is a substantial step forward in the battle of the bulge. I commend the current administration for its efforts.

What have studies shown?
In a recent randomized clinical trial — the gold standard of trial designs — called the Practice-based Opportunities for Weight Reduction study, those who underwent more intensive weight-loss counseling through primary care physicians’ offices saw significant reduction in weight that was, most importantly, maintained over a two-year period (N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1959-1968). The mean change in weight was a loss of 5.1 kg, or 11.2 pounds, in the intensive group compared to the control group (usual care) who lost 0.8 kg, or 1.8 pounds. These results were statistically significant.

In a meta-analysis ( a group of studies), there was a 6.6 pound greater weight loss in the intervention group than the control group over 12 to 18 months with a greater number of treatment sessions resulting in a greater amount of weight loss (Ann Intern Med 2011;155:434-437).

There have been a number of other studies showing substantial weight loss over two years with a high nutrient density diet; participants shed a mean of 53 pounds over that period (Altern Ther Health Med. 2008 May-Jun;14(3):48-53), but it was not a randomized control trial.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has been recommending obesity counseling for patients. It found that it helped to improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels and glucose metabolism, among other things, with even modest weight loss.

Calorie restriction approach: the problem
There are many programs doctors can choose from to help patients. However not all programs are equal. Severe calorie restriction may work for the short term, but is not really a solution for the long term. Complications arise when hormones, such as leptin, ghrelin, peptide YY, glucose-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and insulin, are thrown out of balance and the body strives to replace the weight that has been lost (N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1597-1604). The hormones, instead of suppressing appetite, actually create an environment ripe for regaining weight, setting up the patient for failure. I touched on the physiologic effects related to weight loss in an article on Oct. 21, 2010.

The importance of nutrient dense foods
It is not as much about calorie restriction as it is about nutrients from foods. Nutrient dense substances not only help with weight loss, but are very important for treatment and prevention of disease. Regardless of whether someone is obese or not, nutrient-dense diets, such as the Mediterranean-type diet and the DASH diet, have shown tremendous benefit in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease. There is even a potential association between micronutrient (nutrient dense) food deficiencies and obesity (Nutr Rev. 2009 Oct;67(10):559-72). Thus, it is about lifestyle modification rather than “dieting.”

This is just too great an opportunity not to be a participating patient. Intensive guidance by the medical community can help patients lose weight, if done right, for the long term. The prevailing thought in medicine is that private insurance companies will follow suit, which would be great news for those not eligible for Medicare.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website www.medicalcompassmd.com and/or consult your personal physician.