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OBJECTIVES: (1) To evaluate the evidence relating to the effectiveness of methods to prevent and treat obesity, and (2) to provide recommendations for the prevention and treatment of obesity in adults aged 18 to 65 years and for the measurement of the body mass index (BMI) as part of a periodic health examination. OPTIONS: In adults with obesity (BMI greater than 27) management options include weight reduction, prevention of further weight gain or no intervention. OUTCOMES: The long-term (more than 2 years) effectiveness of (a) methods to prevent obesity and (b) methods to treat obesity. EVIDENCE: MEDLINE was searched for articles published from 1966 to April 1998 that related to the prevention and treatment of obesity; additional articles were identified from the bibliographies of review articles and the listings of Current Contents. Selection criteria were used to limit the analysis to prospective studies with at least 2 years' follow-up. BENEFITS, HARM AND COSTS: Health benefits of weight reduction were evaluated in terms of alleviation of symptoms, improved management of obesity-related diseases and a reduction in major clinical outcomes. The health risk of weight-reduction methods were briefly evaluated in terms of increased mortality and morbidity. VALUES: The recommendations of this report reflect the commitment of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care to provide a structured, evidence-based appraisal of whether a manoeuvre should be part of a periodic health examination. RECOMMENDATIONS: (1) Prevention: There is insufficient evidence to recommend in favour of or against community-based obesity prevention programs; however, because of considerable health risks associated with obesity and the limited long-term effectiveness of weight-reduction methods, the prevention of obesity should be a high priority for health care providers (grade C recommendation). (2) Treatment: (a) For obese adults without obesity-related diseases, there is insufficient evidence to recommend in favour of or against weight-reduction therapy because of a lack of evidence supporting the long-term effectiveness of weight-reduction methods (grade C recommendation); (b) for obese adults with obesity-related diseases (e.g., diabetes mellitus, hypertension), weight reduction is recommended because it can alleviate symptoms and reduce drug therapy requirements, at least in the short term (grade B recommendation). (3) Detection: (a) for people without obesity-related diseases, there is insufficient evidence to recommend the inclusion or exclusion of BMI measurement as part of a periodic health examination, and therefore BMI measurement is left to the discretion of individual health care providers (grade C recommendation); (b) for people with obesity-related diseases, BMI measurement is recommended because weight reduction should be considered with a BMI of more than 27 (grade B recommendation). VALIDATION: The findings of this analysis were reviewed through an iterative process by the members of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. SPONSORS: The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care is funded through a partnership between the Provincial and Territorial Ministries of Health and Health Canada.