Turns out, all obesity was not created equal. (Photo: Family of Dogs by Fernando Botero / Corbis)
With most health conditions, there is variance in a treatment plan based on the unique conditions of one’s illness. For example, we know there are 14 types of breast cancer, and each may have a very different course of treatment. But with obesity, it’s one size fits all: Eat less. Exercise more. Repeat.
Researchers from The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom have begun an important new discussion in the weight loss world. They’ve discovered that people who are categorized as being obese actually fall into one of six groups. And each type requires a unique treatment plan to accurately target its groups’ common characteristics and root causes of being overweight.
The study experts gathered data from 4,144 obese patients from the Yorkshire Health Study, looking at each subject’s age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, along with their health needs and lifestyle habits. With this information, they theorized that the adults who had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over — which is the clinical definition of obesity — could be placed into one of six groups:
Young males who are heavy drinkers—Though overweight, this group usually engages in some healthy behaviors (i.e. belonged to a gym or didn’t smoke). With the exception to their high alcohol intake, they reported above-average levels of walking.
Middle aged individuals who are unhappy and anxious—This group was primarily female and had poor mental health, as well as insomnia, anxiety, depression and fatigue. However, this group had the lowest alcohol consumption and took part in regular physical activity.
Older people who, despite living with physical health conditions, are happy—A group with a high prevalence of chronic health conditions (such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure) yet who also exhibited low levels of anxiety and depression.
Younger healthy females—The largest group in this study, these women were also engaged in some healthy behaviors similar to the young males in the first category yet minus the drinking.
Older affluent healthy adults—While a large portion of this higher income group had high blood pressure and consumed an above-average alcohol consumption, they also engaged in some healthy behaviors.
Individuals with very poor health—This group reported the highest levels of pain and fatigue, dealt with the most chronic health conditions and had the highest BMI. They were also the most financially challenged.
“Our paper focuses on identifying the variation in characteristics of people who are obese,” lead study author Dr. Mark Green, Research Associate in Public Health from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, tells Yahoo Health. “The next step in the work is exploring what approaches are effective in tackling each of these groups we have identified and making greater policy recommendations.”
For example, Green and his team suggests that those men who fall under the “young males who are heavy drinkers” category may benefit from an alcohol reduction program, while the “middle aged individuals who are unhappy and anxious” may find a plan that mixes increased exercise with psychological counseling to be more effective.
“In the future, we hope that GPs (general practitioners) will keep in mind these six groups when offering advice to their patients,” says Green.
More than one-third — or 78.6 million — of U.S. adults are obese, and obesity is a proven cause of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A program that takes into account the complicated nuances of the specific causes of obesity could be a welcome change in approach to current treatments.