Prevention of Weight Regain Is NOT Impossible

I often hear from the general public, and even my physician colleagues, that losing weight and keeping it off is a hopeless goal.  So, why try?

Because it’s not hopeless.

The March 12, 2008, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association includes an article from the Weight Loss Maintenance Collaborative Research Group.  Researchers identified a group of 1,032 overweight or obese adults who lost at least 8.8 pounds (4 kg) during a 6-month weight loss program.  These adults had high blood pressure, blood lipid abnormalities, or both.  38% were African American and 63% were women.

Average weight of the group before losing weight was 213 pounds (96.7 kg).  The weight-loss program consisted of 20 weekly group sessions, exercise goal of 180 minutes per week (26 minutes per day, usually walking), reduced caloric intake, and adoption of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating pattern.  The goal rate of weight loss was 1 or 2 pounds per week (0.45 to 0.91 kg per week).  Study subjects were taught how to keep records of their caloric intake and physical activity.

Except for the weekly group sessions, this program is similar to the Advanced Mediterranean Diet.

So each of these folks lost at least 8.8 pounds on this program.  Researchers followed them over the next 30 months to see how much weight would be regained.  Average weight loss for the entire group actually was 19 pounds (8.6 kg).  As expected, many people did regain weight over the next 30 months, between 6 and 9 pounds on average.  Of course, some individuals lost much more weight initially, and didn’t gain any back.  Some regained all of the lost weight, plus extra.

Overall, 42% of participants “maintained at least 4 kg [8.8 pounds] of weight loss compared with entry weight…” over the 30 months of follow-up.  37% remained at least 5% below their initial weight.

The “5%” figure stands out, for me, because we see improvement in obesity-related medical problems with loss of just 5 to 10% of body weight.

The authors cite studies indicating that “each kilogram [2.2 pounds] of weight loss is associated with a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 1.0 to 2.4 mmHg and a reduction of incident diabetes of 16%.”

To summarize the weight changes:  Study participants weighed 213 pounds before the behavioral weight-loss program.  Average weight loss was 19 pounds, down to 194 pounds.  Average weight regain over 30 months was in the range of 6 to 9 pounds.  Participants were still pretty big, but 37% of them probably saw some improvement in their medical status.

A huge amount of effort went into this study, on the part of both researchers and study participants.  Nevertheless, average results are relatively modest.  Keep in mind, however, that the numbers are averages, and you are not average.  I’m sure some of the participants went from 220 pounds down to 150 pounds and stayed there.  That could be you.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Svetkey, Laura et al.  Comparison of Strategies for Sustaining Weight Loss: The Weigth Loss Maintenance Randomized Controlled Trial.  Journal of the American Medical Association, 299 (2008): 1,139-1,148.

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