If the headline was not depressing enough for those severely overweight who are hoping to turn things around, the slim odds are grim odds. A new study shows that the chance of an obese person losing enough weight to be “normal” is not as bad as winning the lottery, but pretty near impossible.
Without surgical interventions, the odds of a clinically obese person getting down to a normal weight is only one out of 124 for women and an even worse one in 210 for men. For someone morbidly obese, the results are still more discouraging. The data is from a United Kingdom National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) research effort just published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The U.K. team also found that even a mere 5 percent weight loss is often unattainable. Only 10 percent of obese women and 8 percent of obese men in a given year who try will lose 5 percent of their body weight. That loss is ephemeral; 53 percent of those who attain a 5 percent weight loss will regain it within two years and 78 percent will within five years.
The research team tracked the weight of 278,982 obese adults age 20 or older (129,194 men and 149,788) women using the electronic health records in the UK’s Clinical Practice Research database between 2004 and 2014. Researchers determined that an adult was obese based on at least three measurements of their body mass index (BMI) in their medical records. They did not include anyone who had bariatric surgery to achieve weight loss in their data. The average ages of those included was 49 for women and 55 for men.
The study showed that the higher a person’s BMI was, the less likely they were to ever get back down to what is considered to be a normal weight on health charts. The analysis showed that, of the men in the data who had a BMI of 30 to 35, only 0.47 percent dropped their BMI below 25, a level considered to be normal. Women had a 0.8 percent rate of achieving a healthy weight over time. Those morbidly obese had worse results with only 1 in 677 women and 1 in 1,290 men managing to achieve the results without surgery. The study also showed that one-third of the adults experienced “weight cycling,” with repeated increases and decreases (aka yo-yo dieting).
The team’s lead researcher, Dr. Alison Fildes, a research psychologist based at University College London, noted that the findings suggest current weight loss strategies for obese people do not work. She commented that losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight can produce “meaningful health benefits and is often recommended as a weight loss target.” Fildes also pointed out that their findings show “how difficult it is for people with obesity to achieve and maintain even small amounts of weight loss,” she emphasized.
The study team noted that most obese patients in the U.K. (and other countries) are offered weight management programs for losing that their research show hardly work or show how impossible dieting can be. Fildes suggested that obesity treatments in the future should focus on preventing those who are overweight and obese from gaining further weight. She also emphasized that priority should be placed on helping people avoid gaining weight in the first place.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
CBS News: Obese people almost never attain normal weight, study finds
Daily Mail: Losing weight really IS impossible: The vast majority of people who pile on the pounds never lose them in the long run
EurekAlert: King’s College London – Low chance of recovering normal body weight highlights need for obesity prevention