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Oct 21, 2019

A Look at Long-Term Health Effects of Weight Loss

Maintaining weight loss is key in reducing major risk factors for heart disease.

Keeping the pounds off after initial weight loss proves critical for heart health, based on a study that followed more than 1,500 diabetic adults in the years after an intensive weight loss program. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and suggest maintaining at least 75% of weight loss is ideal for reducing major risk factors for heart disease.

Known as the Look AHEAD trial (Action for Health in Diabetes), this study tested the effects of a lifestyle intervention study in more than 5,000 overweight patients with type 2 diabetes. It included an intensive one-year weight loss program, which was followed by a three-year maintenance phase that included monthly group meetings and recommendations for diet and exercise.

The intensive one-year program was successful in promoting weight loss among participants, but experts wondered about the long-term effects of that weight loss on heart health.

To learn more, researchers analyzed outcomes among a subset of 1,561 trial participants that lost at least 3% of their body weight in the first year. Outcomes included cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and waist circumference, all of which have a big impact on risk for heart disease.

After analysis, researchers found that participants who maintained their weight loss or continued to lose weight had fewer cardiovascular risk factors than those who gained the weight back. However, keeping even a small amount of the weight off had health benefits when compared to those who gained it all back. Researchers also note that individuals who kept at least 75% of their initial weight loss off had the greatest health benefits after three years.

According to authors, findings highlight the need for weight maintenance programs after initial weight loss. For patients with type 2 diabetes, weight loss can have significant benefits for cardiovascular and overall health. It can also help in normalizing blood sugar levels, which is key to diabetes management.

However, most programs only support patients in their initial weight loss and few focus on long-term weight maintenance. As a result, authors encourage future research to identify such programs, particularly for patients with diabetes who face increased heart risks.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • How can I prevent type 2 diabetes?

  • Although unknown exactly why some individuals develop type 2 diabetes and some don’t, there are some known risk factors for this condition, like being overweight and inactive. There are also risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as family history, age and race.

Infographic: Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk


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