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NIH Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults by National Hearth Lung and Blood Institute

PDF File

Excerpt from NIH PDF file:
An estimated 97 million adults in the United States are overweight or obese, a condition that substantially raises their risk of morbidity from hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Higher body weights are also associated with increases in all-cause mortality. Obese individuals may also suffer from social stigmatization and discrimination. As a major contributor to preventive death in the United States today, overweight and obesity pose a major public health challenge.

Overweight is here defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 and obesity as a BMI of ≥ 30 kg/m2. However, overweight and obesity are not mutually exclusive, since obese persons are also overweight. A BMI of 30 is about 30 lb overweight and equivalent to 221 lb in a 6’0″ person and to 186 lb in one 5’6″. The number of overweight and obese men and women has risen since 1960; in the last decade the percentage of people in these categories has increased to 54.9 percent of adults age 20 years or older. Overweight and obesity are especially evident in some minority groups, as well as in those with lower incomes and less education.

Obesity is a complex multifactorial chronic disease that develops from an interaction of genotype and the environment. Our understanding of how and why obesity develops is incomplete, but involves the integration of social, behavioral, cultural, physiological, metabolic and genetic factors.

While there is agreement about the health risks of overweight and obesity, there is less agreement about their management. Some have argued against treating obesity because of the difficulty in maintaining long-term weight loss and of potentially negative consequences of the frequently seen pattern of weight cycling in obese subjects. Others argue that the potential hazards of treatment do not outweigh the known hazards of being obese. The intent of these guidelines is to provide evidence for the effects of treatment on overweight and obesity. The guidelines focus on the role of the primary care practitioner in treating overweight and obesity.

Evidence-Based Guidelines

To evaluate published information and to determine the most appropriate treatment strategies that would constitute evidence-based clinical guidelines on overweight and obesity for physicians and associated health professionals in clinical practice, health care policy makers, and clinical investigators, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Obesity Education Initiative in cooperation with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases convened the Expert Panel on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults in May 1995. The guidelines are based on a systematic review of the published scientific literature found in MEDLINE from January 1980 to September 1997 of topics identified by the panel as key to extrapolating the data related to the obesity evidence model.

Evidence from approximately 394 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) was considered by the panel.

The panel is comprised of 24 members, 8 ex-officio members, and a methodologist consultant. Areas of expertise contributed to by panel members included primary care, epidemiology, clinical nutrition, exercise physiology, psychology, physiology, and pulmonary disease. There were five meetings of the full panel and two additional meetings of the executive committee comprised of the panel chair and four panel members.

The San Antonio Cochrane Center assisted the panel in the literature abstraction and in organizing the data into appropriate evidence tables. The center pretested and used a standardized 25-page form or “Critical Review Status Sheet” for the literature abstraction. Ultimately, 236 RCT articles were abstracted and the data were then compiled into individual evidence tables developed for each RCT. The data from these RCTs served as the basis for many of the recommendations contained in the guidelines.

The panel determined the criteria for deciding on the appropriateness of an article. At a minimum, studies had to have a time frame from start to finish of at least 4 months. The only exceptions were a few 3-month studies related to dietary therapy and pharmacotherapy. To consider the question of long-term maintenance, studies with outcome data provided at approximately 1 year or longer were examined. Excluded were studies in which self-reported weights by subjects were the only indicators used to measure weight loss. No exclusions of studies were made by study size. The panel weighed the evidence based on a thorough examination of the threshold or magnitude of the treatment effect. Each evidence statement (other than those with no available evidence) and each recommendation is categorized by a level of evidence which ranges from A to D. Table ES-1

summarizes the categories of evidence by their source and provides a definition for each category.

  • Who is at Risk? All overweight and obese adults (age 18 years of age or older) with a BMI of ≥25 are considered at risk for developing associated morbidities or diseases such as hypertension, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other diseases. Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals with a BMI ≥30 are considered obese. Treatment of overweight is recommended only when patients have two or more risk factors or a high waist circumference. It should focus on altering dietary and physical activity patterns to prevent development of obesity and to produce moderate weight loss. Treatment of obesity should focus on producing substantial weight loss over a prolonged period. The presence of comorbidities in overweight and obese patients should be considered when deciding on treatment options.
  • Why Treat Overweight and Obesity? Obesity is clearly associated with increased morbidity and mortality. There is strong evidence that weight loss in overweight and obese individuals reduces risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Strong evidence exists that weight loss reduces blood pressure in both overweight hypertensive and non-hypertensive individuals; reduces serum triglycerides and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol; and generally produces some reduction in total serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol. Weight loss reduces blood glucose levels in overweight and obese persons without diabetes; and weight loss also reduces blood glucose levels and HbA1c in some patients with type 2 diabetes. Although there have been no prospective trials to show changes in mortality with weight loss in obese patients, reductions in risk factors would suggest that development of type 2 diabetes and CVD would be reduced with weight loss.