Researchers Identify Successful Strategies For Weight Loss
April 10, 2012

Researchers Identify Successful Strategies For Weight Loss

Despite nearly a third of Americans now being obese, as many as 70 percent say they are trying to lose weight, and many do, according to new research from researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston Mass.

The researchers, reporting their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that most obese dieters who stuck to the tried and true methods of eating less fat, exercising more and using prescription diet pills had a much better success rate of losing weight.

The team found that those who used diet foods, nonprescription diet pills and followed popular diet plans were less successful in losing weight.

“This is great news because studies have shown that even a 5 percent reduction in weight can lead to improved health,” said Jacinda M. Nicklas, MD, MPH, MA, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and lead researcher on the paper. “With more than a third of Americans now obese and fifty to seventy percent of them trying to lose weight, this is important because the health risks associated with carrying that extra weight are substantial.”

For their study, Nicklas and colleagues analyzed data from more than 4,000 obese individuals taken from the 2001-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Those included in the study were 21 and older who had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more at least 12 months prior to the interview. The researchers discovered that 2,523 of those surveyed reported trying to lose weight. Forty percent of which said they experienced weight loss of 5 percent or more, and another 20 percent reported losing 10 percent or more.

“Although national guidelines recommend a loss of 10% of body weight for improved health in the obese, studies have found that even a modest weight loss of 5 percent can lead to health benefits,” said Nicklas.

“Additionally we found a correlation between joining weight loss programs and greater reported weight loss, which may speak to the importance of structure in a weight loss regimen,” added Nicklas.

In a sharp contrast to the positive effects of using less fat, exercising more and taking prescription diet pills, the authors found that “self-reported use of popular diets, liquid diets, nonprescription weight loss pills and diet foods/products were not associated with weight loss.”

Senior author Christina Wee, MD, MPH, Co-Director of Research in BIDMC´s Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, said it was “very encouraging to find that the most of the weight loss methods associated with success are accessible and inexpensive.” She adds that many “fad diets out there as well as expensive over-the-counter medications that have not necessarily been proven to be effective, and it is important that Americans discuss product claims with their doctor before trying such products.”

The researchers noted that although prescription weight loss medications were associated with successful weight loss, positive results were only seen in a small number of the participants in this study. “These results tell us that Americans use many weight loss strategies that are not associated with significant weight loss, including nonprescription weight loss medications. Public health efforts directing Americans to adopt more proven methods may be warranted,” concluded Nicklas.

The study didn´t look at the long-term impact of these interventions on an individual´s ability to keep weight off. The authors said future research is warranted and should be used to identify and address barriers to maintaining weight loss.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide.

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