Professor James Stubbs, professor of appetite and energy balance, University of Leeds
How an ‘obesogenic environment’ can affect weight loss
02/10/2018 - 14:02
The environment and biological resistance to losing weight can impact efforts to become healthy, according to experts.

The British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) conference titled  ‘the what, how and when of weight loss’ heard from experts spanning key areas of scientific research around the subject of weight management.

They focused on the idea of an ‘obesogenic environment’, an environment that encourages people to eat unhealthy and not do enough exercise, and the biological resistance of the body losing weight, and how it can confuse people’s efforts to get to, and maintain a healthy weight.

Ayela Spiro, nutrition science manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “It is clear that different weight loss strategies can work for different people but finding effective strategies for long-term sustainability of weight loss continues to be the major challenge.

“There is a growing body of evidence that highlights the complexity of factors that may impact on successful weight management and these reflect that it is not just what eat that is important, but also how and when we eat.”

Dr Wendy Hall, reader in nutritional sciences at King’s College London, who chaired the conference, explained how more sleep could be linked to losing weight, but there is a need for more research into the subject.

She said: “Our research into the potential beneficial health effects of sleep extension shows that extended sleep can lead to a significant reduction in intake of free sugars.”

Another suggestion at the conference was that weight loss could lead to physiological and behavioural changes that make people more inclined to regaining weight.

Professor James Stubbs, professor of appetite and energy balance at the University of Leeds, said: “Some of the most promising behavioural intervention components that may help long term weight loss include the use of tracking technologies, self-regulation and motivation, and emotional regulation and stress management. 

“In the near future, individuals will be able to routinely use digital tracking technologies to help navigate their energy balance and behaviours and maintain a healthy weight.”

The impact of meal times and disruption of the body’s internal clock (circadian system) on energy balance and metabolism was explored by Dr Leonie Ruddick-Collins, research fellow at the Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen.  

She said: “The circadian system plays an extensive role in regulating the timing of key metabolic processes, including glucose control, lipid metabolism, energy expenditure and digestive processes.

“Several of these rhythms peak in the morning, suggesting that eating earlier in the day may be optimal for better digestion, bloody glucose control and regulation of energy balance.”

Other speakers included George Thom, research associate at the University of Glasgow, who questioned if there is an optimal diet for weight management and metabolic health.

Thom said: “Weight loss improves all obesity-related diseases, regardless of the macronutrient composition of the diet. 

“Emerging evidence suggests that total diet replacement led programmes are most successful on average, but people vary in preferences and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to weight management.

“We aim to get people to make dietary changes for life, but there are few habits that we start, and maintain forever. Most things are done in phases and maybe weight management is a bit like that.

“Weight loss maintenance remains the biggest challenge and is undermined by an obesogenic environment that is counter-productive to sustaining lifestyle changes, despite our best intentions.”