“Policies designed to tackle obesity and encourage healthier lifestyles often target individuals just because they are obese. But a focus on just the group as a whole is not very efficient. We are all different and different health promotion approaches work for different people,” Dr. Mark Green, of the university’s School of Health and Related Research, said in an April 18 news release.
Green and his research team took data regarding 4,144 obese individuals from the Yorkshire Health Study and classified them into six categories: young males with heavy drinking habits; middle-aged people who were anxious and unhappy; older people who were happy despite physical health conditions; younger healthy females; affluent healthy adults; and individuals with very poor overall health.
The report suggests that alcohol reduction could be a highly effective strategy for tackling young adult obesity, for example, while counseling combined with exercise might be more helpful for middle-aged people battling anxiety.
The authors have acknowledged that there are limitations to the current study, and that more research is needed before comprehensive policy recommendations can be made. But as Alice G. Walton wrote in a Forbes commentary on the study published April 18, part of the study’s value is that it highlights the psychological aspects and drivers of obesity.
People tend to focus in on the more mechanical aspects of losing weight such as exercising more and making food substitutions (Greek yogurt veggie dips, for example, have 67% fewer calories and 88% less fat than the most popular sour cream dips; switching out sandwich bread for lettuce wraps can save hundreds of calories; etc.), but rarely examine why some people make those changes and others don’t.
“Getting to the bottom of that is usually one of the first steps in losing weight for good,” Walton writes. “At least the new study gets us thinking about that, and the fact that when it comes to weight, there’s no one reason why people may gain more of it than they’d like.”
The full study has been published in the Journal of Public Health.