It’s estimated that one out of every six health care dollars in the U.S. are spent on obesity-related health conditions. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.
Studies showing the success of medication, diet or exercise approaches for sustained weight loss are few. As a result, many grow frustrated with the conventional medical establishment and enroll in fad diet programs. As a former registered dietitian and currently in my role as a family physician, I’ve encountered many people who swear by the Atkins, the Zone or the South Beach diets.
Yet, we know that fad diets aren’t helpful. The results of a six-month trial of 811 overweight adults (The New England Journal of Medicine, February 2009) showed no significant difference in weight loss regardless of percentage of calories from carbohydrate or fat when patients followed reduced-calorie diets.
The latest fad is the HCG diet. Many people are unaware that the HCG diet originated with a British Endocrinologist, ATW Simmeons in the 1950s. Its resurgence has been attributed to the infomercial pitchman, Kevin Trudeau. Based on reports of weight loss with the use of HCG (commonly known as pregnancy hormone) in pediatric patients with a rare hypothalamic disorder, Dr. Simmeons hypothesized that it would promote weight loss in otherwise healthy overweight adults. There’s considerable variation in how the HCG programs are laid out, but it primarily consists of a very low-calorie diet restriction (usually 500 calories a day) for up to 40 days, along with injections of HCG.
Despite Simmeon’s and Trudeau’s claims it’s never been shown to work. In 1995 the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published an analysis of research demonstrating no benefit of HCG in promoting weight loss. As a result the FDA requires the package inserts for HCG state: “HCG is not effective in the treatment of obesity.” It can also be costly with consultations costing $150 or more, and most insurance plans don’t pay for it.
The future of the HCG program will undoubtedly be that of other diet fads. As the public learns of the potential dangers of HCG injections and patients regain the weight they’ve lost from the severe calorie restriction it will fall out of favor until the next diet fad.
Dr. Mark Tosca is a family practice physician at Kachina Family Practice (www.Kachinafamilypractice.com). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.