Personality Research and Obesity

July 13th, 2016 No comments »

Frequently, discussions about persons with obesity will include a view that persons with obesity have a personality defect which impedes their ability to limit food intake or sustain a regimen of physical activity. Rather than ignore such views, it might be helpful to see how research on personality and obesity provides us with enhanced understanding. A series of papers by Dr. Angela Sutin and colleagues provides helpful insights. A 2011 paper found that the most disciplined consumers had lower rates of obesity while large weight gains were found among consumers scoring high on measures of impulsiveness, low conscientiousness and willingness to take risks.  (These are standard categories for assessing personality types.) (Sutin AR, Ferrucci L, Zonderman AB, Terracciano A. Personality and obesity across the adult life span J Pers Soc Psychol 2011 Sep;101(3):579-92) Going further, a 2013 paper by Sutin and colleagues found that persons who rated high on impulsiveness and lacked discipline or low conscientiousness had high circulating levels of leptin, which plays a critical role in weight regulation, even after controlling for body mass index, waist circumference or inflammatory markers. (Sutin AR, Zonderman AB, Uda M, Deiana B et al Personality Traits and Leptin Psychosom Med. 2013 Jun;75(5):505-9)

A third paper by Sutin and colleagues, “I Know Not to but I Can’t Help It: Weight Gain and Changes in Impulsivity Related Personality Traits,” asked whether weight gain or loss of 10% or more led to personality changes, specifically impulsiveness and deliberation. The researchers found that compared to participants who remained weight stable, those who gained weight became more impulsive. Those who did not gain weight showed a predicted loss in impulsiveness. But contrary to their hypothesis, weight gain was also associated with increases in deliberation. In other words, subjects who were gaining weight became more thoughtful before acting. The authors opined that as participants gained weight they bought into the American stereotypes about persons with obesity. So they saw themselves as more impulsive even as they were increasing in deliberativeness. There had no change in self-discipline.

A recent paper has found that only conscientiousness showed a robust association with both BMI and obesity risk. Conscientiousness was associated with obesity risk among Hispanics and is larger for women than men. (Kim, J. Personality traits and body weight: Evidence using sibling comparisons. Soc Sci Med 2016 Jul 1:163:54-62)

What Leveling of childhood obesity?

July 13th, 2016 No comments »

Much has been made recently of a purported drop in childhood obesity, particularly among children age 2 to 5. (See my Oct. 2015 blog, Did the White House Spin CDC Study to show progress in childhood obesity?”) Now, a new study finds “no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue.” The paper by Ashley C. Skinner, Eliana M. Perrin and Joseph A. Skelton in Obesity used NHANES data from 1999-2014 and found, “A clear, statistically significant increase in all classes of obesity continued from 1999 to 2014.” They also reported that severe obesity (class II and III) showed a significant increase in adolescents and non-Hispanic black children.  They state, “By including severe obesity, our results also highlight particular areas of concern. In 2013-2014, nearly 10% of adolescents met criteria for Class II obesity, and nearly 5% also met criteria for class III obesity…The 4.5 million children and adolescents with severe obesity will require novel and intensive efforts for long-term obesity improvement. With scarce resources, and increasing costs of comorbid conditions, there is an urgent need for targeted interventions to stem the rise in severe obesity among children, in addition to policies and clinical efforts designed to prevent obesity. Policy efforts are yet to yield substantive changes in obesity prevalence but few have specifically targeted severe obesity.” Amen

Debunking ‘progress’ on childhood obesity

May 2nd, 2016 No comments »

Much has been made recently of a purported drop in childhood obesity, particularly among children age 2 to 5. (See my Oct. 2015 blog, Did the White House Spin CDC Study to show progress in childhood obesity?) Now, a new study finds “no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue.” The paper by Ashley C. Skinner, Eliana M. Perrin and Joseph A. Skelton in Obesity used NHANES data from 1999-2014 and found, “A clear, statistically significant increase in all classes of obesity continued from 1999 to 2014.” They also reported that severe obesity (classII and III) showed a significant increase in adolescents and non-Hispanic black children.  They state, “By including severe obesity, our results also highlight particular areas of concern. In 2013-2014, nearly 10% of adolescents met criteria for Class II obesity, and nearly 5% also met criteria for class III obesity…The 4.5 million children and adolescents with severe obesity will require novel and intensive efforts for long-term obesity improvement. With scarce resources, and increasing costs of comorbid conditions, there is an urgent need for targeted interventions to stem the rise in severe obesity among children, in addition to policies and clinical efforts designed to prevent obesity. Policy efforts are yet to yield substantive changes in obesity prevalence but few have specifically targeted severe obesity.” Amen

The Biggest Loser study shows persistence of slower metabolism after 6 years

May 2nd, 2016 No comments »

Gina Kolata of The New York Times has a front-page story on May 2, 2016, covering a study of winners of the TV ‘reality’ show, The Biggest Loser. The study published in the journal Obesity shows that not only is most the lost weight regained, but that the slower metabolic rate, which occurs during active weight loss, persists for up to 6 years in the subjects. This is the process of adaptive thermogenesis which we have discussed on several occasions. What the article does not mention is that most of the weight loss programs used in employer wellness programs are based on The Biggest Loser. In other words, thanks to Obamacare, employees can be penalized for failing at a weight loss program where failure is all but assured.

The Impact of Childhood Sex Abuse on Eating Disorders and Obesity

December 16th, 2015 No comments »

The Atlantic magazine has a powerful essay by Olga Khanz on the role of childhood sexual trauma leading to disordered eating and obesity. The piece highlights the work of Dr. Vincent J. Felitti. For more on Dr. Felitti’s work and related research see our post from November, 2011.

Persons with Obesity Excluded from Nursing Homes

December 15th, 2015 No comments »

The New York Times published yesterday a sobering view of the discrimination faced by persons with severe obesity to access nursing home care. It is a sobering picture and one that is not likely to get better anytime soon.

Employers Promote Fat-Shaming: New Post

December 11th, 2015 No comments »

Fellow blogger Al Lewis has an excellent post on Huff  Post Business on the promotion of fat-shaming in “employer wellness” programs. He points out that (a) these programs do not cause weight loss, (b) they are  often structured to embarrass and harass overweight employees by their colleagues, (c) the penalties for failure to reach an employer goal of a specific BMI or weight loss amount are outrageous. What he might add is that millions  of American workers are affected by these programs,   them the largest human experiments in history. No doubt  the numbers of affected employees dwarfs those in medical or surgical treatment programs. What he does not explain is the absence of outrage in the scientific and medical community over these  scams.

National Over-Feeding Months

November 27th, 2015 No comments »

It often seems as if the period from Labor Day in September through Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, New Year in January, Valentine’s Day and the football playoffs in February are  designed to promote overeating. It is a wonder we all are not obese. So amid the food celebration and token diet advice, it’s nice to have some solid, research-based exposition of  the myths surrounding weight loss and weight gain. We have one, thanks to Kevin Hall, Ph.D., a distinguished researcher at the National Institutes of Health. (For coverage of Dr. Hall’s recent work, click here.)