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There Are 4 Kinds of Obesity — And They All Require Personalized Treatments, Study Finds

You may be surprised to learn that there’s not just one but actually four types of obesity. According to experts, though, this info might be key to solving the different health issues that these people are facing.

A November 2018 study published in Obesity analyzed data from more than 2,400 obese patients who had bariatric weight-loss surgery. Researchers were able to identify four groups that differed significantly in terms of eating behaviors as well as the rate of diabetes. Importantly, these groups also diverged quite a bit in terms of their weight-loss results three years after surgery.

“There probably isn’t one magic bullet for obesity — if there is a magic bullet, it’s going to be different for different groups of people,” said lead author Alison Field, ScD, in a press release. “There’s a really diverse mix of people who get put into one group. A child who becomes very obese by age 5 is going to be very different from someone who gradually gains weight over time and at age 65 is obese. We need to recognize this diversity, as it may help us to develop more personalized approaches to treating obesity.”

According to researchers, the first type of obesity was characterized by low levels of high-density lipoprotein (aka “good” cholesterol) and high levels of blood sugar. As you might imagine, this group was the most likely to include people with diabetes. The second group was distinguished by eating disorders, such as binge eating, “grazing” on food between meals, and eating when not hungry. Group three was the most “surprising” type, characterized by being fairly average metabolically speaking and showing low levels of disordered eating. Finally, the last group included folks who had been obese since childhood.

So what do these different types of obesity mean for treatment? Researchers found that the patients in groups two and three tended to benefit more from bariatric weight-loss surgery than the patients in groups one and four. Both men and women who struggled with disordered eating in particular saw the best benefits of surgery — with men reporting an average of 28.5 percent loss of pre-surgery weight and women reporting 33.3 percent loss.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone who’s struggled with binge eating is necessarily the perfect candidate for weight-loss surgery. Rather, the researchers simply want to emphasize that understanding the characteristics of these different groups is key to figuring out a personalized treatment for each individual. For example, researchers suggested a mindfulness practice might help some folks who are overstimulated by sights and smells of food. However, when it comes to drastic measures such as surgery, it’s crucial to make sure the possible benefits are greater than the risks.

“One of the reasons why we haven’t had stronger findings in the field of obesity research is that we’re classifying all of these people as the same,” said Field. “It may very well be that there are some incredibly effective strategies out there for preventing or treating obesity, but when you mix patients of different groups together, it dilutes the effect.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with obesity, talk to a medical professional about a personalized treatment. After all, no two people are exactly alike, so it makes sense why their best options for their health wouldn’t be either!

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