Sobering Dieting Advice From the Quebec Public Health AgencyFriday, December 2, 2011
One of the brochures that was freely distributed at the recent Journées annuelles de santé publique (Québec) meeting I spoke at yesterday in Montreal, is a pamphlet produced by the Québec Public Health Agency (with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada) on the potential risks of dieting.
The pamphlet notes that:
• 1 woman out of 2 in Quebec wants to lose weight
• 45% of children aged 9 in Quebec aren’t happy with their figure
• Half of Quebec women try dieting more than twice a year
• Losing weight does not mean you are healthier (quite the statement coming from a public health agency)
• Many women mistakenly believe losing weight will improve their self-esteem, make them more attractive and make them sexier.
The pamphlet actually warns that:
“Always being on a diet might make you gain weight. The more you are preoccupied with your weight, the more you are at risk of suffering from depression and stress. Day-to-day activities like meals, getting dressed and playing sports can be transformed into major sources of anxiety.”
The pamphlet is also very clear about why most commercial diets don’t work:
Diets don’t take into account the reasons why you are gaining weight:
• Heredity, disease, medication, age, etc.
• Eating habits, physical activity, being obsessed with one’s own weight, etc.
• Perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, etc.
• Standards of beauty, the environment, the type of work we do, etc.
Finally, it offers the following points to consider when thinking about losing weight:
- Weight-loss pace: Does my plan focus on losing more than 1-2 pounds per week?
- Methods used: Does my plan focus on what food I eat, physical activity and changing my habits?
- Is health professional support available?
- Food intervention: Do you vary the meals you make, experiment with different flavours, colours and ingredients? Eating right is good for your health but it can also be fun and delicious!
- Physical activity: Does my plan have an element of physical activity, the kind I enjoy?
- Efficiency: Has the approach I am taking been scientifically verified, and is it efficient over the long term?
- Danger: Is my plan safe, meaning is it devoid of danger and secondary effects?
- Advertising: Are the ads related to my plan realistic?
- What it costs: Can I realistically evaluate the total cost of my plan?
Not sure that warning about the ‘dangers of weight loss’ is standard practice with other public health agencies – I certainly haven’t seen similar warning signs in other jurisdictions.
Obviously, the Agency is by no means implying that excess weight or obesity cannot be a health problem – it is simply warning about the possibility that ‘self-guided’ non-evidence-based approaches, especially those often promoted by the commercial weight-loss industry, may in the end do more harm than good.
When weight loss is indeed medically indicated – treatment should perhaps be best left to ‘qualified‘ health professionals.
p.s. Hat tip to Chantal Bayard of the ASPQ for bringing these brochures to my attention