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New Recommendations for Overweight People at Risk of Heart Conditions

Update Date: Aug 26, 2014 01:49 PM EDT

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has issued new guidelines for overweight adults with an increased risk of developing heart conditions. The task force, which is an independent panel of experts that reviews medical research for the purpose of developing recommendations for preventive care, reported the need for "intensive" counseling on diet and exercise for this group of people.

In the report, the task force defined at-risk adults as anyone who is overweight and has at least one risk factor for heart disease. Risk factors include but are not limited to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The recommendation states that doctors should offer at-risk individuals intensive lifestyle coaching or at least referrals to specialists who can offer lifestyle counseling.

The experts at the task force stated that intensive counseling should be focused on helping the patient make real changes. Patients should learn how to effectively their diet through healthy eating and exercise while setting reachable goals. A counselor should also offer support and help monitor the patient's progress.

"Just talking with your doctor is good. But it's probably not sufficient. But we don't want to be too draconian," said task force member Susan Curry, dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health according to Philly. "We're not saying it has to be a certain number of sessions."

The recommendations were written after the experts reviewed 74 clinical trials. The majority of those trials had examined the effects of programs that combined diet and exercise. Participants from the trials attended five to 16 one-on-one sessions over the span of nine months to a year. People who went to these sessions had "modest" improvements in their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In the longer trials, the researchers found that these programs reduced people's risk of getting type 2 diabetes by as much as 42 percent.

"On average we're talking about a few milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or a couple of millimeters of Mercury decrease in blood pressure," Dr. Jennifer S. Lin of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland Oregon and lead author of the literature review stated. "We're calling that a modest benefit applied to a population but even these modest benefits translate into health outcomes that patients can actually feel."

The task force stated that even though its recommendation is mainly for doctors, patients should not be afraid to ask about these programs if their doctors do not mention them.

"My message for patients would be that we have the ability by changing our behavior to modify our risk for heart disease and stroke and your doctors can help you do that," Dr. Michael L. LeFevre, the chair of the Task Force and the vice chair in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, told Reuters Health.

The latest recommendations titled "Behavioral Counseling to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle in Persons With Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force" were published in the journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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