Obesity is one of the number one health concerns in the modern world, and many people have been attributing increasing waist lines with the easy access to high calorie foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. A study by John Lang from the University of Waterloo found some counterintuitive patterns: underweight people tend to increase their BMI over time whereas overweight people tend to reduce their BMI. This is important because this study is one of the few attempts at gathering large-scale empirical data on how BMI fluctuates over time in people and the general population, which could have huge implications on managing weight for people and through public health policy.
Dr. Imran Haque, an internist and general practitioner based out of North Carolina, will help us understand why gathering and understanding data on BMI fluctuations in people can help change weight management. Specifically, he thinks that understanding weight fluctuation trends can be key in helping people lose weight naturally and result in more effective public health policy. Ultimately, Dr. Imran Haque will be using his extensive experience of over 15 years to help explain why a better-informed patient means for more precise and effective medicine.
General Population’s BMI is Increasing, but not because of overweight or heavy people
John Lang’s study surveyed the body mass index (BMI) of 750,000 patients based out of Chicago from 1997 to 2014. In his study, he placed individuals into one of four categories, depending on their BMI: underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. When studying the overall trend in BMI for individuals in each category, his data confirms some assumptions but the results are also a bit counterintuitive. At a high level, it confirms that the general population’s weight is increasing, but that increase is driven primarily by people whose BMI is underweight or normal weight. People categorized as overweight or obese actually had a downward trend over time – large people tended to lose weight on a whole. His study also determined that people’s weight vary in proportion to their BMI – people with a higher BMI index saw greater variance in weight. Dr. Imran Haque believes that these findings are important because it may have radical implications on weight management and also public health. General Population’s BMI is Increasing, but not because of overweight or heavy people
Weight Fluctuation and the Implication on Public Health
Being able to collect and analyze data on how BMI shifts in a population and people can also help provide more information for better weight management plans. Knowing the link between BMI and weight fluctuation is very important because it partially explains why BMI distribution is so skewed towards higher values. Any natural variation in weight will have a larger impact on heavier people, and this causes fluctuations and diffusion in the BMI distribution. For example, and event or change that leads to increase weight gain across the population will have a more pronounced effect for those with higher BMI’s. Dr. Imran Haque points out that John Lang’s study marks the first time that BMI fluctuation was captured at such a scale. Being able to track how a population’s BMI shifts over time based on season or events is critical to maintaining better weight management, as being able to prevent large fluctuations in a population’s weight is key to maintaining a healthy population.
Runaway Train Theory
At the individual level, much of today’s weight loss philosophy rotates around the “runaway train theory” – the idea that obese or overweight people will continue to gain weight. The idea behind the theory is that rapid gain in fat cells hints towards an imbalance between glands and hormones, and that the imbalance leads towards a vicious cycle that acts as “accelerators” that leads to excessive weight gain. However, cold water is poured on this theory given the study’s findings. Many personal weight loss regimens take a brute force method in order to encourage weight loss – often by eating less or cutting out parts of the diet, since there was the assumption that limiting calories would stop the ever-increasing weight of some people. The fact that obese and overweight people tend to have large weight fluctuations makes Dr. Imran Haque excited for research towards personal weight loss regimens that harness the natural fluctuations of weight to make dropping weight easier and healthier. Most importantly, the large empirical studies such as John Lang’s helps provide more information about people’s weight habits and trends, and having more information can allow for more effective weight management plans.
Data Mining is Key to a Healthier Future
Dr. Imran Haque is excited for a future where information is more readily available and prevalent – being aware of a population’s weight changes and fluctuations is a step towards that goal. There is still uncertainty today about weight management, and it was seen in how strongly the runaway train theory of weight gain was debunked by John Lang’s study. More importantly, being able to recognize weight fluctuations and draw conclusions based on what may be causing them is a solid first step towards a future where public health initiatives are more effective and individual weight management plans have more of an immediate impact. By being able to tap into the natural weight fluctuation, it could be possible for a future where weight loss could be easier and may not require a dramatic shift in diet. Ultimately, Dr. Imran Haque is more excited for a future where patients and lawmakers are better informed on people’s health.