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Shape Up America! Reveals The Truth About Dieters

New Study Shows Widespread Misperceptions About Low- and No-Carbohydrate Diets

WASHINGTON, DC; December 29, 2003 -- While millions of Americans are making New Year's resolutions to lose weight, a new survey released today by Shape Up America!, the non-profit organization committed to helping Americans manage their weight, finds that many people widely misunderstand low- and no-carbohydrate diets and they may, in fact, be exposing themselves to serious health risks without even realizing it.

"People need to wake up to the reality that diets that restrict the consumption of entire food groups - especially essential carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables - are unhealthy and can be dangerous," says former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, founder of Shape Up America!

The survey shows that millions of Americans are putting their health at risk because they don't understand the safety issues, the drastic restrictions and the unrealistic adherence required to follow low-/no-carbohydrate diets. Conducted by Leflein Associates, the survey shows that most Americans who have been, or are now, on low-/no-carbohydrate diets cannot identify which basic foods are primarily carbohydrates, which is essential information for anyone trying to follow one of these diets. For example, more than two thirds (67%) could not identify tomatoes as primarily a carbohydrate and nearly half (47%) could not identify apples as primarily a carbohydrate.

In a recent BBC-One program, "Real Story with Fiona Bruce," the weight loss progress of three doctors was documented for four weeks as they followed one of the most popular low-/no-carbohydrate diets. Although all three lost weight, one physician was hospitalized with severe pain from an acute attack of constipation and a second developed a 24% increase in bad cholesterol. A spokesperson for the popular diet program attributed these negative side effects to a failure to strictly adhere to the program "to the letter."1

The Shape Up America! survey results show that few dieters do this and that nearly all low-/no-carb dieters are confused about which foods are permitted - and which are not - making strict adherence nearly impossible. "In other words," said Barbara Moore, PhD, president and CEO of Shape Up America!, "there is confusion about the role of calories, confusion about which foods are primarily carbohydrates and virtually no awareness of the dangers of such an unbalanced diet over the short term and the long term."

"This survey demonstrates that people do not understand the most basic nutrition facts, especially concerning the essential role of carbohydrates in a healthy diet," said Dr. Moore. "There is an urgent need to correct misconceptions about low-/no-carbohydrate diets, and to educate Americans with scientifically-based information about healthy nutrition, the foods they eat and how to achieve sustainable weight-loss."

"It is disappointing to learn that among low-/no-carb dieters surveyed, more than half (51%) mistakenly believe that carbohydrates play a more significant role in weight loss than calories," said Dr. Moore, "when in fact all weight loss is based on consuming fewer calories than you use."

The study further showed that most people do not understand the potentially dangerous side effects of low-/no-carbohydrate diets, demonstrated by low awareness of negative side effects. Among low-/no-carb dieters, awareness of relatively less serious side effects of low-/no-carb diets ranges from 31% to 42%, for example low energy/fatigue (42%), constipation (40%) and headaches (37%). More alarming, overall awareness of the more serious side effects is much lower, ranging from 8% to 25%, for example increased cholesterol (25%), osteoporosis/bone loss (20%) and gallstones (7%). Thus, many low-/no-carb dieters are exposing themselves to significant health risks without being aware of what those risks are. Nonetheless, the vast majority (67%) of all dieters, including low-/no-carb dieters, acknowledge that these diets are not good for children. The survey also found that more than half (55%) who have been or are currently on a low- or no-carbohydrate diet report cheating on their diet. Yet according to a recent report, four out of five (82%) did not know that a diet of this type, if not followed to the letter, might result in severe health risks.2

For the 68% of American women and 51% of American men who say they want to lose weight,3 author Dr. Pamela Peeke and Shape Up America! offer the following tips as part of a healthy and sustainable weight loss plan that can make a New Year's resolution a New Year's reality.

  1. Choose a diet plan that is balanced in macronutrients, meaning it includes healthful proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Excluding any of these three macronutrients is, by definition, unbalanced, and ultimately not a healthy diet.
  2. For optimal health, as well as effective weight loss, establish a diet plan that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and incorporates low-fat or no-fat dairy products. Such a dietary plan has been shown to produce long-term weight reduction, and to lower blood pressure and lipid levels, even in healthy people.
  3. When it comes to losing weight, calories count. To reduce your calorie intake, learn about portion size and eat a variety of vegetables and fruit as well as whole grain foods. These foods contain more nutrients and fiber and fewer calories per bite. Therefore, you will be able to fill up by having plenty of nutritious food on your plate, while still consuming fewer calories.
  4. Fiber matters. To many nutrition authorities, fiber is the unsung hero of healthy eating because it protects against heart disease and cancer, and is also very filling. Fiber is found in complex carbohydrates, which means you may not get enough healthy fiber if you go on a low-carbohydrate diet.
  5. Monotonous diets only work in the short-run. Sooner or later, the so-called forbidden foods beckon. Over the long term, learning to manage all foods is a healthier approach and prepares you to eat a wide variety of foods in reasonable portions. The goal should not just be to lose some weight, but also to adopt eating patterns that are sustainable and enjoyable, so you can keep the weight off.

1BBC-One, "Real Story with Fiona Bruce," Monday, December 1, 2003, 7:30 p.m.; http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2003/12_december/01/real_story_atkins.shtml
2Atkins Health & Medical Information Services and Education Research Director, from BBC-One, "Real Story with Fiona Bruce," Monday, December 1, 2003, 7:30 p.m.
3Gallup Survey, November 26, 2003: "Many Americans Deluding Themselves About Weight," by David W. Moore

Findings of the Leflein Associates survey for Shape Up America! are based on a telephone survey conducted December 19-21, 2003, among a nationally representative Random Digit Dial (RDD) sample of 1,000 adults 18+, comprising 499 men and 501 women. A complete copy of the findings and methodology is available to media upon request.

About Shape Up America!:

Shape Up America! was founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness of the health effects of obesity and to provide responsible information on weight management to the public and to health care professionals. The award-winning Shape Up America! Web site -- www.shapeup.org -- offers clear weight management information in an entertaining and engaging manner.

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