Not all fat is the same. A study identified 6 types of obesity, paving a way for better tailored treatments to help lose weight
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
Obesity is a serious health issue, especially in the United States. According to CDC, more than one-third (37.9%) of U.S. adults are obese, and here in the UK we aren’t too far behind this statistic. With most health conditions there are various treatment plans based on the unique characteristics of one’s illness. However when it comes to obesity, all obese people are put into one category and there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment. All obese people are advised to eat less and exercise more.
Researchers from The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom have made an important discovery. The researchers have identified that people who are categorised as being obese actually fall into one of six distinct groups. This is a big step forward in addressing the obesity crisis as it ultimately demonstrates that one size does not fit all. Each type of obesity requires a unique treatment plan in order to accurately target its group’s common characteristics.
ABOUT THE STUDY
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK and the Harvard School of Public Health in the US. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Public Health. This study looked at data from over 4,000 obese patients from the Yorkshire Health Study. Researchers looked at each subject’s age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, as well as their health needs and lifestyle habits. The study aimed to see whether it was possible to recognise subgroups of obesity according to common health and lifestyle characteristics.
Based on the responses to the questionnaires, the research team theorised that the adults who had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over — which is the clinical definition of obesity — could be placed into one of six groups:
HOW COULD THE RESEARCH AFFECT OBESITY TREATMENT?
Better Targeted Treatment
Researchers argued that each type comes with different treatments and obese people would benefit from targeted treatment programmes. Because each group is socially distinct from the others, the causes of their obesity are likely to be different. This means we should abandon the “one-fits-all” treatment and account for the important variations within individuals who are obese. Interventions should therefore not target obese individuals as a whole but tailor strategies depending on which subgroups the individuals belong to. This would make for a far more effective treatment.
Treating the “Unhappy Middle-Aged” will differ from the treatment that is suitable for the individuals in the “Poorest Health” group. For the former, it may be better to increase exercise and offer counselling to address their mental health issues. For the latter, advising exercise may not be reasonable and more modest goals should be set. On the other hand, those that fall into the “Heavy Drinking Males” category would benefit from an alcohol reduction program.
Developing new treatments for obesity is absolutely vital. The researchers suggest that doctors should assess what group obese patients might fall into and treat them accordingly.
AVENUE FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
This study certainly provides an interesting avenue for further research and gets us to think more deeply about the causes of our weight problems. It demonstrates why we should abandon the “one size-fits-all” approach which is one step forward in addressing the obesity crisis. The study suffers from multiple problems, mainly it cannot identify causation but it may be used to drive future research. Obesity is a growing problem around the world. It is therefore crucial that we better understand the problems related to obesity and the ways to fight it.
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