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Sep 29, 2011

Heart-Healthy Habits Prevent Long-Term Weight Gain

Healthy diet and physical activity promote healthy weight over time.

Long-term weight gain is a significant problem in the United States, contributing to increased rates of overweight and obesity nationwide. With poor diets and little physical activity, most Americans gain weight each year and fail to lose this excess weight over their lifetime, increasing risk for diabetes, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. To address this issue, researchers have tried to identify causes for long-term weight gain and effective ways to prevent added weight over time.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed over 120,000 men and women for ten years and found that the average adult gained nearly 3.5 pounds every 4 years (That’s nearly 20 pounds in 20 years!). Most importantly, they found that weight gain was most strongly associated with intake of certain foods, including potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened drinks, unprocessed red meats, and processed meats. Weight gain was also associated with watching television, sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 8 hours per day, smoking, and excess alcohol use. On the other hand, weight loss was associated with physical activity and intake of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and yogurt.

Study findings should prove extremely useful in helping address long-term weight gain. Even if they are at a healthy weight while young, Americans have a tendency to gain weight over time as a result of our lifestyle and diet. Therefore, making lifestyle changes to avoid weight gain, such as increasing physical activity and maintaining a well-balanced diet, can not only help maintain a healthy weight but also begin a lifetime of habits for a healthy heart.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are certain foods associated with greater weight gain than others?

  • Yes. Some studies found that potato chips are more strongly associated with weight gain, followed by potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats and processed meats. 

  • Is television watching associated with weight gain?

  • Yes, increased television watching has been  associated with an increase in weight gain. For example, in a recent study, watching one hour of television per day contributed to an average weight gain of .31 pounds, while three hours of television watching each day contributed to an average weight gain of .93 pounds.

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