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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weight loss headed for a makeover

Dieting in the future will be "weight loss to go," with more people getting customized advice on their cell phones, personal digital assistants and computers, and more companies delivering diet foods directly to homes.

So said Thomas Wadden, one of the nation's top obesity researchers and president of the Obesity Society, which is hosting its annual meeting this weekend in Boston. Scientists there will present hundreds of cutting-edge studies on everything from fat cells to diet drugs as they look for ways to halt the U.S. obesity epidemic.

Currently, 66 percent of adults are overweight or obese (30 or more pounds over a healthy weight), which increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and other medical issues.

Research suggests that dieters benefit from getting nutritionists' advice via e-mails, chat rooms and phone calls, said Wadden, 54, a psychologist and director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Other nutrition experts agree. Busy people need portable tools like PDAs and cell phones to quickly get the information that will enable them to make the best food choices, especially in restaurants, said Deborah Tate. The assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is presenting research on this topic at the obesity meeting.

Dieters can track their food intake and exercise on PDAs, she said. "If these tools are convenient, people may be more likely to use them, and we know that monitoring these behaviors leads to greater weight loss."

Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers, said, "We still have lots to learn about how to use technology to enhance weight loss, but there is definite potential. These methods may hold particular promise for those adults who came of age in the world of technology." They are comfortable getting support from chat rooms, instant messaging and online food journals, she said.

Another modern tool that weight-loss experts discuss is pharmaceutical options. A few diet drugs are on the market, and hundreds of new diet drugs are being tested, but there is no miracle medication coming out anytime soon, Wadden said.

The next diet drug likely to get government approval is rimonabant, which is expected to be OK'd in 2007, he said. Studies show patients who take it lose about 8 percent to 9 percent of their starting weight, about the same amount lost by taking sibutramine, marketed as Meridia. Another prescription diet drug, orlistat, is being considered for over-the-counter status.

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