Diet advice

It all boils down to permanent lifestyle changes

Dieters who participate in programs that offer weight-loss counseling shed more pounds and keep the weight off longer than those who go it alone, according to a new study.

But a formal program doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term success, according to Dr. Michael L. Dansinger, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts and one of the authors of the study, published in the July 3 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Roughly half of weight-loss program-goers kept the pounds off for three years, but most of them had gained it all back after five years.

The study of published literature found that dietary counseling resulted in weight loss of approximately 6 percent of initial body weight (approximately 10 to 15 pounds). The authors analyzed 46 trials that included 6,386 people who were participating in dietary counseling-based weight-loss programs and 5,467 people not involved in formal weight-loss programs. Programs with more frequent meetings and greater calorie restrictions tended to produce greater weight losses over time.

“This study shows that lifestyle changes need to be for the long-term,” said Dansinger, a physician with Tufts-New England Medical Center’s Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

Obesity-related problems are among the most serious health problems facing U.S. adults. Nearly two-thirds of Americans adults are overweight, and roughly half of overweight adults are obese. Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, hypertension, degenerative disease of the knees and hips and some forms of cancer.

Dietary and lifestyle modifications are the primary methods for treating and preventing obesity, but the net effect of dietary counseling for weight loss had not been published until now. “We did not know how much weight people lost, on average, through weight-loss programs, or how long it took them to gain it back,” Dansinger said.

Moderate weight loss—10 to 20 pounds—has a dramatic effect on most of the medical problems caused by obesity. Diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk for stroke all can be reduced by moderate weight loss. “People don’t have to lose 100 pounds to make a big difference in their health,” Dansinger said.

This story appeared in the September 2007 issue of the Tufts Journal.