Six types of obesity identified by researchers could change obesity treatment

Tue, 21 Apr 2015
There are six different kinds of obesity, and they should be treated separately, according to new research.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, could inform the development of new kinds of obesity treatment.

The six types of obesity

According to researchers, the six types are:
  • Young healthy females: this group tended to experience few obesity-related complications (such as type 2 diabetes)
  • Heavy-drinking males: they experienced a similar exposure to obesity-related complications to young healthy females, but with a lot more alcohol consumption
  • Unhappy and anxious middle-aged: the researchers defined this group as being predominantly female, with mental health and emotional wellbeing issues
  • Affluent and healthy elderly: this group is considered generally healthy, but with too much alcohol consumption and unhealthily high blood pressure
  • Physically unhealthy but mentally healthy elderly people: this group tended to have arthritis and obesity-related health complications, but they were happy; they experienced fewer mental health issues than other groups
  • Poorest health: this group is economically deprived and suffers from more chronic diseases than the other groups
It is worth pointing out that this is a theory - there are no scientific distinctions between the groups. Rather, the study suggests that identifying broad "subcategories" of obesity will help develop new ways of treating the condition that may be more effective than a "one size fits all" approach.

How could the research affect obesity treatment?

Because each group is socially distinct from the others, the causes of their obesity are likely to be different; they all have separate root causes that need to be addressed. Treating the "unhappy and middle-aged" group will differ greatly from treating the "poorest health" group, for example: the former needs to have their mental health issues addressed, while the latter needs to have their economic deprivation addressed so that they can afford to eat healthily.

Developing new treatments for obesity is vital. It is a significant health problem - one that is only expected to get worse unless treatment improves - and can play a key part in the development of other conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.

How was the study conducted?

The researchers sent questionnaires to 27,806 participants, 4,144 of whom were obese. 16 per cent of the 27,806 responded. The questionnaire examined lifestyle factors, such as smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and weight management.

New treatments influenced by the hypothesis would focus on treating these groups more specifically, finding out what they respond to and applying it. However, it is currently unknown whether or not this would be effective, so more research is needed.

Six types of obesity: could this improve obesity treatment?

"Those in the groups that we identified are likely to need very different services, and will respond very differently to different health promotion policies," said Dr. Mark Green, Sheffield University's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), and lead author of the study.

"Policies designed to tackle obesity and encourage healthier lifestyles often target individuals just because they obese. But a focus on just the group as a whole is not very efficient. We are all different and different health promotion approaches work for different people.

"In the future, we hope that GPs will keep in mind these six groups when offering advice to their patients."
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