By Chris Adams

As Americans struggle to control their weight, they’re likely to sign on to some commonly held beliefs – many of them with little or even contradictory evidence.

Andrew Brown, a researcher with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discussed the myths and presumptions about obesity that are part of the national dialog on the issue. In a discussion with National Press Foundation journalists, he laid out some of the more common myths, which he defined as “a belief held to be true despite substantial refuting evidence.”

They included the notion that small sustained changes in diet and activity will lead to large long-term weight changes; that rapid weight loss is associated with poorer outcomes than gradual weight loss; that physical education classes in their current form play an important role in preventing or reducing childhood obesity; and that breast feeding protects against obesity.

To help journalists understand the evidence, Brown pointed them to resources such as his university’s Obesity and Energetics Offerings website, which compiles the latest research from the field, and Sense About Science, a nonprofit that critically examines the scientific literature on topics including health and food.