Obese may never attain normal body weight, study suggests

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A King’s College London study has found that obese people are highly unlikely to attain normal body weight thereby suggesting that weight management programmes including dieting and exercise may not be effective at tackling obesity and there is an urgent need to prevent obesity in the first place.

Researchers, based on analysis of UK health records, found that the chance of an obese person attaining normal body weight is 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women, increasing to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women with severe obesity.

For the research, scientists tracked the weight of 278,982 participants (129,194 men and 149,788) women using electronic health records from 2004 to 2014.

Researchers looked at the probability of obese patients attaining normal weight or a 5 per cent reduction in body weight. A minimum of three body mass index (BMI) records per patient was used to estimate weight changes and patients who received bariatric surgery were excluded.

The annual chance of obese patients achieving five per cent weight loss was 1 in 12 for men and 1 in 10 for women. For those people who achieved five per cent weight loss, 53 per cent regained this weight within two years and 78 percent had regained the weight within five years.

The analysis revealed that only 1,283 men and 2,245 women with a BMI of 30-35 reached their normal body weight giving a probability of 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women. When the BMI was raised above 40, the odds increased to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women with severe obesity.

Researchers concluded that traditional weight management programmes and current obesity treatments are actually failing to achieve sustained weight loss for the majority of obese patients.

Dr Alison Fildes, first author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London (and now based at UCL), said: “Losing 5 to 10 per cent of your body weight has been shown to have meaningful health benefits and is often recommended as a weight loss target. These findings highlight how difficult it is for people with obesity to achieve and maintain even small amounts of weight loss.”

Fildes said that once an adult becomes obese, it is very unlikely that they will return to a healthy body weight.

Researchers have called for urgent action and steps to deal with obesity and that obesity treatments should focus on preventing overweight and obese patients gaining further weight, while also helping those that do lose weight to keep it off.

More importantly, priority needs to be placed on preventing weight gain in the first place, the researchers said.

Professor Martin Gulliford, senior author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, said: “Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss. The greatest opportunity for stemming the current obesity epidemic is in wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population.”