The biggest losers — those who lose the most weight — tend to be the ones who win when it comes to keeping weight off, new research suggests.
Weight cycling — or the repeated loss and regain of body weight — is common. But this new study found that those who lose the most are more likely to keep losing and maintain their weight loss over time.
“About two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and the economic and health burdens of the obesity epidemic are substantial. Achieving and maintaining weight loss has proven to be difficult,” study lead author Joanna Huang said in a news release from the Endocrine Society.
“Many patients regain weight after their initial loss; and even after a period of weight loss, most people become ‘cyclers’ who regain weight or experience inconsistent losses and gains,” said Huang. She is the senior manager of health economics and outcomes research at Novo Nordisk, in Plainsboro, N.J. Novo Nordisk Inc. funded the study.
For the study, the researchers examined the electronic medical records of more than 177,000 obese people who had annual body mass index (BMI) measurements taken for at least five years. BMI is a rough estimate of a person’s body fat based on height and weight.
The study participants were divided into four groups based on their weight loss six months after their first BMI measurement. The first group was classified as stable, losing less than 5 percent of their first BMI measurement. The second group had modest weight loss of between 5 and 10 percent. The third group had moderate weight loss of between 10 and 15 percent. The final group had a high weight loss of 15 percent or more of their initial BMI measurement, the researchers said.
Most patients in each group experienced weight cycling or weight regain, the study authors said in the news release. But the findings showed that those who lost more weight early on were more likely to maintain steady weight loss over time.
Among those with modest weight loss, 23 percent maintained their weight and 2 percent continued to shed pounds. Among those with moderate weight loss, 14 percent managed to keep the weight off and 4 percent lost even more weight. Of those with high weight loss, however, 19 percent didn’t regain lost weight and 11 percent continued to shed extra pounds, the study revealed.
Over the course of two years, 40 percent of the patients with modest weight loss regained more than half of the weight they lost. The same was true for 36 percent of those with moderate weight loss. But only 19 percent of those with high weight loss regained more than half of the weight they lost, the researchers said.
Weight cycling affected 58 percent of the high weight loss group, compared with 71.5 percent of the modest weight loss group and 74 percent of the moderate group, the investigators found.
“We hope these results highlight the importance of chronic, consistent and conscientious weight loss and management,” Huang said. “Identifying patterns of weight change is critical for tailoring weight management strategies to the needs of targeted patient groups.”
The study findings were scheduled to be presented on Friday at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in Boston. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about healthy weight loss.