It didn’t take long for the headlines to surface after JAMA published the latest data on American obesity rates this March. “American Adults Just Keep Getting Fatter,” cried The New York Times. “Public Education Efforts Not Moving the Needle in Fight against Obesity,” was Kaiser Health News’ takeaway. Even the food blog Grubstreet conceded, “America’s Obesity Epidemic Is Only Getting Worse.”
The responses set a dismal tone—and for good reason. The data1 to which they respond, taken from the 2007-2008 and 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), paint a picture of a nation wherein 33.7% of adults are obese (defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more) and 5.7% are severely obese (having a BMI of 40 or more)—and they reflect an upward obesity trend that’s been in evidence for decades.
All this comes despite ongoing efforts to educate Americans about the risks of—and remedies to—obesity. And it also comes despite the earnest claims of those same Americans that they’re exercising more.
So, clearly: Something isn’t working.
Yet it’s time we find something that does. Whatever that “something” is, it’ll likely comprise dietary changes, more exercise and education, and possibly nutritional supplementation to address weight management. After all, as Joe Weiss, president, Nutrition 21 LLC (Purchase, NY), points out, “The problem surrounding obesity is only getting worse, which leads me to believe there will continue to be demand around products addressing or reducing the negative impacts of this condition.”
Cracking the Code
We’ve been down this road before, and perhaps we keep winding up here because although solving overweight and obesity may be simple in concept—eat less; exercise more—it’s much harder in fact. As Mark Cope, PhD, applied nutrition manager, DuPont Nutrition & Health (Madison, WI), says, “We all know that weight management requires lifestyle changes, but it’s these changes in diet and exercise habits that make weight management so challenging.”
Add to that the inexorable influence of genetics—and an environment apparently designed to encourage obesity—and it’s understandable why taking weight off and keeping it off is a tough code to crack. Says Mitch Skop, former senior director of new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., a division of Ashland (Kearny, NJ), “Emotionally charged mindsets often cause binge or stress eating,” and though manufacturers are making healthful choices available, “junk-food manufacturers are doing the same thing,” albeit in the equal and opposite direction.
The consequences of this “toxic food environment” extend well beyond one’s waistline. “Obesity is associated with higher death rates driven by comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, steatohepatitis, gastroesophageal reflux, arthritis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and infertility2,” Cope says. “Another important point to make about obesity is reduced quality of life, even among obese individuals without associated comorbidities3.”
And don’t forget to account for obesity’s economic toll. Cope points to data4 showing that the public health burden of excess weight costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $200 billion annually. Moreover, a Johns Hopkins University study5 concluded that obese individuals who lower their BMI to what’s considered a healthy range could save $28,000 over a lifetime.
Shame on Sugar
Supplementary interventions that help keep weight in that healthy range also have the potential to ameliorate obesity’s costs. And though such products have traditionally focused on energy, thermogenesis, and metabolism, “more recently it seems a lot of formulas are catering to consumers who need help managing their sugar intake to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, reduce hunger, and increase satiety,” says Brian Appell, marketing manager, OmniActive Health Technologies (Morristown, NJ).
Indeed, “Today’s diets are loaded with sugar,” Appell observes. NPD Group research6 reveals that while a combination of sugary nonalcoholic beverages and processed grain products contribute the lion’s share of sugars in contemporary diets, “even foods many people consider healthy can contain more than 95 grams of hidden sugars,” he notes—“more than twice the maximum recommended intake.”
No wonder sugar consumption has been climbing over the past 30 years—and contributing to near-epidemic rates of elevated blood sugar and weight gain in the process. “It’s the hidden sugars that are largely responsible for this health crisis,” Appell adds. So it’s also no wonder that when an OmniActive survey7 asked consumers which single item they’d eliminate from their diets if they could, more than half cited sugar and/or carbohydrates.
Appell says that because his company’s Salacia chinensis extract—marketed as OmniLean—can “uniquely balance blood sugar and thereby control appetite,” it can help users “make healthier choices.” The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled three-way crossover CARBS (Carbohydrate Appetite Reduction and Blood Sugar) study8 was the first to examine the extract’s effects on postprandial glycemic indices and gut hormones, and it found that when taken with a meal, the ingredient improved glycemic response and changes in gut hormones in healthy overweight/obese individuals, reduced blood sugar spikes, and influenced appetite and satiety.
Noting that “industry cannot change people’s stress or behavior, but we can help them lessen the impact of a carb-laden diet,” Skop explains that Pharmachem’s white kidney bean extract—brand named Phase 2 Carb Controller—helps delay digestion and absorption of dietary starches by temporarily inhibiting salivary and pancreatic alpha-amylase enzyme. Carbohydrates that thus resist digestion in the small intestine can travel to the large intestine where they act like dietary fiber, feeding microbiota and upregulating the hormone GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1), which promotes satiety signaling, among other metabolic effects.
Four placebo-controlled human studies published between 2001 and 2004 showed significant weight and inch loss with the product’s use. The most recent study9 on the ingredient—and the largest human trial on it to date—showed that after 12 weeks of supplementation, those taking the extract lost an average of 7 lb more than the placebo group and experienced a statistically significant decrease in the desire, frequency, and strength of cravings for chocolates and other sweet foods; meanwhile the placebo group saw a significant increase in the difficulty of resisting particular types of food. After 24 weeks, 73.5% of participants in the weight-management phase had successfully maintained their body weight.
- Hales CM et al., “Trends in obesity and severe obesity prevalence in US youth and adults by sex and age, 2007-2008 to 2015-2016,” JAMA. Published online March 23, 2018.
- Haslam DW et al., “Obesity,” The Lancet, vol. 366, no. 9492 (October 1, 2005): 1197-1209
- Kolotkin RL et al., “A systematic review of reviews: exploring the relationship between obesity, weight loss and health-related quality of life,” Clinical Obesity, vol. 7, no. 5 (October 2017): 273-289
- “Obesity Rates and Trends.” The State of Obesity, https://stateofobesity.org/rates Accessed March 2018.
- Fallah-Fini S et al., “The additional costs and health effects of a patient having overweight or obesity: a computational model,” Obesity, vol. 25, no. 10 (September 26, 2017): 1809-1815
- “Impact of Sugar Concern on Consumption Behavior: What We Say vs. What We Do.” NPD Group report. September 2017.
- OmniActive Insights Program, December 27, 2017; 500 respondents.
- Hao L et al., “Appetite and gut hormones response to a putative α-glucosidase inhibitor, Salacia chinensis, in overweight/obese adults: a double blind randomized controlled trial,” Nutrients, vol. 9, no. 8 (August 12, 2017): 869
- Grube et al., “Weight reduction and maintenance with IQP-PV-101: a 12-week randomized controlled study with a 24-week open label period,” Obesity, vol. 22, no. 3 (March 2014): 645-651
- Udani JK et al., “A proprietary alpha-amylase inhibitor from white bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): a review of clinical studies on weight loss and glycemic control,” Nutrition Journal. Published online March 17, 2011.
- Stenman et al., “Probiotic with or without fiber controls body fat mass, associated with serum zonulin, in overweight and obese adults-randomized controlled trial,” EBioMedicine. Published online October 26, 2016.