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Survey: Adults Looking for a Resource to Lose Weight Twice as Likely to Consider Exercise Programs than a Physician

Exercise alone rarely an effective strategy for weight loss, according to osteopathic obesity experts

By AOA Media Team


CHICAGO—February 20, 2018—A new survey from the American Osteopathic Association finds 56% of Americans believe exercise programs are the best resource if looking to lose weight while 28% believe a physician is best. The online survey was conducted by Harris Poll in January 2018.

That belief could help explain continually rising obesity rates, according to physicians. Research has shown many people overestimate how many calories are burned during exercise and overcompensate when they eat. Weight loss comes down to understanding how your body is influenced by specific foods and exercise, says Michael Clearfield, DO, dean of Touro University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in California.

Dr. Clearfield explained that the rapid changes required by most new diet and exercise regimens do not allow time for the mind to adjust, which ultimately may lead to failure.

Exercise programs like Pilates, running and kickboxing, as well as diet systems such as Weight Watchers or Whole30, can be effective but often see high dropout rates, Dr. Clearfield explained. Care coordinated by a physician—which may include the services of a mental health specialist and dietician—can give patients the full support network needed to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.

Lapses in adhering to diets or exercise programs often result in weight gain and fuel a sense that weight loss is insurmountable, which Dr. Clearfield says may ultimately erode patients’ emotional health.


Survey Results
Exercise program (e.g., Pilates, running, kickboxing) 56%
Nutritionist 34%
Diet program (e.g., Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Whole30) 29%
Physician 28%
Personal Trainer 25%


Prioritize emotional health

Americans typically take an all or nothing approach to weight loss, which often includes eliminating all unhealthy foods until a stressor causes a break, noted Peter Bidey, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Yet a setback isn’t failure, he explained.

“Our society suggests weight loss is easy and just a matter of discipline, but successful weight management requires incremental changes—mental, physical and emotional. An unsupported diet or exercise plan is going to fail in most cases, and it’s not the patient’s fault,” Dr. Bidey said.

It can take one to two years before the body adjusts to a new, lower body weight without trying to regain its reserves—as evolution has conditioned our bodies to do. Helping patients understand their body’s biochemical desire to eat can alleviate guilt they experience and support change.

Simple, structured steps

He is optimistic that three changes could set most patients on a positive path forward.

  1. Work with your physician to develop a personalized weight loss plan that integrates activity but balances dietary needs.
  2. Reduce the empty calories popular in the American diet—in particular, soda and processed foods.
  3. Increase the time spent in the pursuit of emotional health, such as walking, dancing or yoga, and consult a mental health professional if facing stress.


“We are witnessing a significant shift in the way we treat comorbidities such as excess weight that, to some degree, have been left to the patient or to companies who provide exercise and diet programs,” says Dr. Bidey. “But physicians are the ultimate care quarterbacks, and can be an effective resource for successful, long term weight loss.”

Survey Methodology:  

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of AOA from January 23-25, 2018 among 2,145 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jessica Bardoulas.

About the AOA

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents nearly 137,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools.

To learn more about DOs and the osteopathic philosophy of medicine, visit

Media Contact:  

Jessica Bardoulas
(312) 202-8038