European Congress on Obesity 2013

An Audience with Professor James O. Hill

On Monday 13th May 2013, Professor James Hill of the University of Colorado spoke at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO), as a guest of the International Sweeteners Association.

Small change, big difference

The internationally renowned Professor Hill gave a session at ECO 2013 hosted by the International Sweeteners Association. He is one of America’s foremost experts in weight management and nutrition and has spent over 25 years researching the causes of weight gain, adiposity and obesity, and how to prevent or treat these problems.

This lively and engaging session, entitled Small change, big difference: An innovative approach to sustained weight loss, was attended by 100-150 people – both congress delegates (the majority of whom were healthcare professionals) and media.

During the session, Professor Hill covered various fascinating questions of the debate on how to deal with the obesity epidemic. He finds that the debate tends to be oversimplified into a matter of either increasing physical exercise or consuming less calorie-intense food.

However this approach is not sustainable:

“‘Few people can maintain significant food restriction – as with a low calorie diet – over a long period of time because we are programmed for survival, not starvation.” says Professor Hill.

Instead, he believes that energy balance should be our focus – this is a complex concept consisting of various components, namely, energy intake, energy expenditure and energy storage. When developing strategies to tackle obesity, these components should not be focused on singularly, but all kept in mind together.

The research of Professor Hill and his peers reveals some interesting findings about low calorie sweeteners. For instance, almost none of the members of the National Weight Control Registry drink full sugar beverages, whereas 70% of these individuals include beverages sweetened with low calorie sweeteners in their diets. In fact, Professor Hill and his peers are now looking into the question of whether there is any difference between these low-calorie sweetened beverages and water, when it comes to losing weight. That is, totally replacing soft drinks (including those containing sweeteners) with water may produce the same effect when trying to lose weight as a diet that includes low calorie sweeteners.

Opting for low-calorie sweeteners instead of sugary food and drink is therefore an example of the “small changes” approach, of which Professor Hill is an advocate. This means making small changes to your life in order to take steps in the right direction towards fighting obesity. When people start to make a few small changes, they are more likely to continue to make more and more – this ultimately results in big changes and big differences to their lives.

He says: “The solution is an innovative approach using small and sustainable changes to our diet and physical activity patterns. When these changes are made part of our everyday lives, we benefit without feeling deprived.”

ECO is the official annual congress of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). It is considered the most important annual scientific event on obesity in Europe, attracting more than 2,000 participants from over 75 counties. Participants are experts and opinion leaders in the field of obesity and its related conditions, covering a wide range of professions. The interdisciplinary nature of obesity research and education allows the programme to address key issues on obesity and its numerous comorbidities.

Professor Hill is a prominent figure not only in the world of scientific academia but also in the public health sphere – among other things, he set up the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of over 10,000 individuals in the US who have successfully lost weight and maintained reduced weight. He is also co-founder of America on the Move, a national weight gain prevention initiative, and is past President of the American Society for Nutrition. His presence at ECO 2013 brought crucial transatlantic perspectives to Europe on dealing with the obesity epidemic.

To view photos from the event, visit our FlickR page by clicking here.
Photos by Fabrice Bourgelle – Photography By Focus