[Paleopsych] NYT: Longing to Lose, at a Great Cost

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Wed Feb 2 22:05:56 UTC 2005

Longing to Lose, at a Great Cost
New York Times, 5.1.4

How desperate are overweight people to shed their extra

Desperate enough that they are willing to risk death. And
so desperate that they value losing weight as much as
severely depressed patients value relief from their
illness, a new survey has found.

The survey, by Dr. Christina C. Wee, an internist at
Harvard Medical School and her colleagues, involved 366
patients who were part of a large medical practice based at
Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. A third of
the participants were overweight and 27 percent were obese.

The researchers asked people to imagine a treatment that
would guarantee them an effortless weight loss of varying
amounts. For each amount, they were asked, would they be
willing to accept a risk of death to achieve it? If so, how
much of a risk of death?

The fatter the person, the more he or she would risk death
to lose weight. And the more weight the patient imagined he
could lose, the greater the risk he would take to achieve

Nineteen percent of overweight and 33 percent of obese
people would risk death for even a modest 10 percent weight
loss. In contrast, 4 percent of normal weight people would
risk death to lose 10 percent of their weight.

Many of the overweight and obese participants also said
they would give up some of their remaining years of life if
they could live those years weighing slightly less.
Thirty-one percent of obese patients and 8.3 percent of
overweight patients said they would trade up to 5 percent
of their remaining lives to be 10 percent thinner.

The survey was published in the December issue of The
Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Dr. Wee said doctors did not always appreciate how
desperately many people longed to be thin.

She said she was taken aback by the findings because
patients in the study also reported that it would take a
lot more than a 10 percent weight loss for them to reach
their dream weights. Yet it seemed that almost any weight
loss, even 10 percent, was something they longed for.

"That was very surprising to me," Dr. Wee said in a
telephone interview.

In fact, obesity researchers say, it takes only a modest
weight loss - 5 to 10 percent - to improve health.

Dr. Wee said she advised patients to make small changes
that they could stick to. Although she is not overweight,
she said she recently switched from regular sodas to diet
ones and effortlessly lost five pounds.


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