Diagnosis and treatment of obesity in adults: an applied evidence-based review

J Am Board Fam Pract. 2004 Sep-Oct;17(5):359-69. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.17.5.359.


Background: Obesity is epidemic and leads to substantial morbidity/mortality. Effective strategies exist for managing obesity yet are rarely used by physicians. This applied evidence-based review provides a rationale for the diagnosis and treatment of obesity in adults by providing test characteristics for the body mass index (BMI) and number needed to treat (NNT) for relevant treatments.

Methods: We integrated evidence supporting recommendations from scientific bodies addressing obesity in adults, including: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, and the US Preventive Task Force. In addition, pertinent studies were identified from MEDLINE, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness, and the Cochrane Database.

Results: (1) manage obesity as a chronic relapsing disease; (2) use BMI as a vital sign to screen for overweight/obese patients and to decide treatment (positive predictive value of 97%); (3) modest weight loss (10%) positively affects prevention/treatment of hypertension (NNT = 3), diabetes (NNT = 9), and hyperlipidemia; (4) effective treatments exist for overweight/obese patients and a combination of diet and exercise provides the best results (NNT = 7); (5) counsel patients to achieve a goal of 10% reduction in weight (500 to 800 kcal/day decrease to affect 1- to 2-pound loss/week); (6) counsel patients to exercise to achieve a goal of any increased energy expenditure.

Conclusions: Weight loss has an impact on important disease states and risk factors. Effective strategies exist for the management of obesity when viewed as a chronic relapsing disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cholesterol, VLDL / blood
  • Chronic Disease
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diet Therapy / methods*
  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Exercise*
  • Glucose Intolerance
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / drug therapy
  • Hypertension / prevention & control
  • Obesity / diagnosis*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Recurrence
  • Weight Loss


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Cholesterol, VLDL