Obesity in the Year of the Ox

Happy Niu (=Ox) Year to all my Chinese Readers!

As I predicted for 2009, I do not believe that despite the global economic downturn, obesity is going to be any less of an issue in the coming year than in the past.

What better post to kick off the Chinese New Year than to report on a systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture for obesity released last week in the International Journal of Obesity.

In this paper, S-H Cho and colleagues from Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea, systematically searched 19 electronic databases, including English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese databases for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for reduction of body weight or improvement in obesity.

A total of 31 studies, which comprised a total of 3013 individual cases, were reviewed, 29 of which had sufficient data to include in the meta-analysis. Despite considerable methodological limitations, overall, acupuncture compared to lifestyle alone was associated with a significant weight loss of around 1.72 kg and an around 2-fold likelihood of an improvement in obesity.

Only four RCTs reported acupuncture-related adverse events, which were minimal.

While the authors rather enthusiastically conclude that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for obesity, they do however see the need for well-planned, long-term studies.

At this time, I find the data far from convincing and wonder wether an average 3-5 lb short-term weight-loss is worth the effort (or money). Nevertheless, as with all obesity treatments there may be subgroups, who benefit more than others – unfortunately, as I do not understand how acupuncture works, I cannot even remotely predict for whom this treatment is likely to be more effective than conventional treatments.

On that rather sobering note it appears that (fitting with the Year of the Ox) there is certainly plenty of room for more perseverance and hard work, when it comes to finding complementary obesity treatments that work.

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Edmonton, Alberta