In a study from Harvard University, scientists found intentionally losing weight can bring long-term health benefits for individuals with obesity, regardless of the method or strategy they use.
Those who lost more than 4.5kg had less weight gain and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who did not lose weight.
But lean individuals did not benefit, with weight loss attempts associated with longer-term weight gain and higher risks of type 2 diabetes.
In the study, the team used data from healthy participants in three large studies from 1988–2017.
They grouped methods that led to a weight loss of more than 4.5kg into seven categories: low-calorie diet, exercise, low-calorie diet plus exercise, fasting, commercial weight loss program, diet pills, and a combination of fasting, commercial, and diet pills (FCP).
The team found exercise was most effective for long-term weight control and prevention in individuals with obesity and linked to the least weight gain after four years—4.2% overall average less weight than at the start in individuals with obesity, 2.5% weight loss in overweight, and 0.4% in lean people.
This was inverted for FCP, which saw individuals with obesity sustaining 0.3% weight loss, overweight people sustaining 2% more weight gain, and lean individuals with 3.7% more weight gain.
24 years later, the risk of diabetes was reduced for people with obesity irrespective of weight loss strategy—ranging from a 21% reduction for exercise to a 13% reduction for diet pills.
For overweight people, the researchers saw a range of 9% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk for exercise to an increase of 42% risk for those who took pills, and in lean individuals, all weight loss was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes—ranging from a 9% increase for exercise and a 54% increase for pills or FCP.
The authors conclude that while weight loss can be beneficial for those who are overweight and obese, weight loss strategies do not bring the same gains for lean people and weight loss strategies should be used only by those who medically need them.
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The study was conducted by Qi Sun et al and published in PLOS Medicine.
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