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For Women, Weight Control is Mind Control

Study finds those who feel in charge of their diets are thinner

WEDNESDAY, July 31, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Attitude is everything, and that's especially true if you're a woman trying to maintain your weight.

Women who believe that weight maintenance is under their control rather than entirely predetermined by genetics are thinner, a new study has found.

Fred Kuchler and Biing-Hwan Lin, both researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, used data from two government surveys that polled 5,274 men and women. (One was the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals; the other, the Diet and Health Knowledge Survey.)

The aim was to find which diet and lifestyle choices mattered for weight control and whether the choices varied by gender. The analysis was meant to help those who design weight maintenance programs.

As expected, the studies linked several habits to effective weight control, including getting regular exercise and eating breakfast regularly. "A lot of what we found confirms [findings] from other studies," says Kuchler, whose report appears in the current issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

Then they asked both men and women to tell whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: "Some people are born to be fat, others thin; there is nothing I can do." They called it the "gene theory."

"About the same proportion of men to women agreed with the statement," Kuchler says.

But when they correlated the response to the statement with the person's body mass index (BMI), a measure of height to weight to assess optimal weight, they found that women (but not men) who disagreed that there was nothing that could be done tended to have lower BMI's.

"What's important is that women who disagreed with the statement had lower BMIs than those who agreed with it," Kuchler says. The difference was a shade under a point.

Lowering the BMI by a point could mean the difference between optimal weight or overweight. A five-foot, four-inch tall woman who weighs 145 pounds, for instance, has a BMI of 25, which is considered overweight. A woman of the same height who weighs 140 pounds has a BMI of 24, considered an appropriate weight.

"Women who disagreed [with the gene theory] were thinner," Kuchler says.

Why did attitude about weight not seem to matter for men?

"I can't really say why," Kuchler says. His goal, he says, was to look at the variables that seem to matter for weight control to advise those who design weight loss programs what to include.

A weight loss expert who has studied the causes of overeating says the finding about attitude is interesting and bears out his experience with persons trying to lose weight.

"I think that attitude is very important," says Edward Abramson, professor of psychology at California State University, Chico, and author of several weight control books. "The notion of efficacy -- that you have some control -- is critical in any weight loss program. To maintain the motivation, to persist [in losing weight and keeping it off], you need the sense of being able to have an impact based on your behavior."

The take-home point, at least for women, is that genetics plays a role but doesn't write the entire script.

"While it is true there are some women who will never be petite, they can be more healthy and feel better about their bodies if they take control of their weight," Abramson says.

What To Do

For information on people who have lost weight and kept it off, see the National Weight Control Registry. Calculate your body mass index at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: Fred Kuchler, Ph.D., researcher, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.; Edward Abramson, Ph.D., professor of psychology, California State University, Chico; July 2002 International Journal of Obesity
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