Harvard?s latest study is chock-full of good news for people who are looking to lose weight. The study evaluated National Health?and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data in order to pinpoint effective strategies for losing weight.
The researchers examined NHANES data from adults during a period of 6 years (2001-2006). They looked at a sub-sample of 4,021 adults who were obese and, from that sub-sample, found 2,523 that had attempted to lose weight the previous year. Then the team, led by Dr. Nicklas, did a multi-variant analysis of those adults in order to identify which weight-loss approaches worked.
1,026 of the obese adults who had tried to lose weight successfully lost 5% of their weight. 501 of those obese adults were able to lose 10% of their weight. In other words, over 60% of the obese people who tried to lose weight lost enough weight to improve their health. So what did they do? Take a look at the next section to find out!
Strategies: Hits and Misses
We?ve collected a list of the strategies that this group used in order to lose weight. Strategies in italics are the ones that actually worked.
- Increasing physical activity
- Avoiding fat
- Eating less
- Choosing low-calorie foods
Less Common Strategies:
- Commercial weight loss programs
- Prescription drugs
- Nonprescription supplements
- Fad diets and liquid diets
The strategies that seemed to be most effective in terms of weight loss were increasing exercise, reducing fat, taking prescription drugs, and joining a commercial weight loss program.
However, some of these strategies have serious drawbacks. Dr James J. Kenney writes, ?Eating special diet foods or products was not only ineffective but the only strategy that was significantly associated with an increased risk of failing to lose excess pounds. The latter finding seems a bit paradoxical on the surface as most commercial weight loss pro- grams require the purchase of special diet foods or meals. This suggests that the ?special diet foods and meals? that accompany most commercial weight loss programs cannot explain their success.?More likely the success of commercial weight loss programs comes from social support, an exercise component, and/or nutrition and health education.?
Another drawback is the danger that accompanies taking prescription weight-loss drugs. Most of these drugs were not approved by the FDA for long-term use. Plus, almost all of them have serious side effects. There were only two strategies that seemed to be safe and effective: increasing physical activity and steering clear of too much fat.
What These Results Mean for You
Basically, if you are overweight or obese and wish to lose weight in a safe way that still produces good results, you should increase the amount of exercise you do and moderate your fat intake. Talk with your doctor and nutritionist/registered dietitian before making any major changes to your physical activ- ity level or diet. It?s important to begin slowly and ease yourself into a routine that you can sustain in a healthful way over time.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.