Weight loss only benefits people with obesity, study finds

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In a study from Harvard University, scientists found 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 people did not benefit, with weight loss attempts linked to longer-term weight gain and higher risks of type 2 diabetes.

Obesity can lead to higher risks of diseases including type 2 diabetes.

Controlling weight can be an effective way of preventing and managing obesity and related diseases, though long-term weight change and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes are not well studied.

In the study, the team used data from healthy participants in three big 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 people with obesity and linked to the least weight gain after four years—4.2% overall average less weight than at the start in people with obesity, 2.5% weight loss in overweight, and 0.4% in lean people.

This was inverted for FCP, which saw people with obesity sustaining 0.3% weight loss, overweight people sustaining 2% more weight gain, and lean individuals 3.7% more weight gain.

24 years later, the team found the risk of diabetes was reduced for individuals with obesity irrespective of weight loss strategy—ranging from a 21% reduction for exercise to a 13% reduction for diet pills.

For overweight individuals, 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.

But 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 researchers 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 individuals and weight loss strategies should be used only by those who medically need them.

If you care about weight management, please read studies about diets that could boost your gut health and weight loss, and 10 small changes you can make today to prevent weight gain.

For more information about weight loss, please read studies that avocado could help you lose weight and belly fat, and a keto diet for weight loss can cause flu-like symptoms.

The study was conducted by Qi Sun et al and published in PLOS Medicine.

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