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Low chance of recovering normal body weight

Posted on 16/07/2015
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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, according to a study of UK health records led by King’s College London. The findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggest that current weight management programmes focused on dieting and exercise are not effective in tackling obesity at population level.

The research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), tracked the weight of 278,982 participants (129,194 men and 149,788) women using electronic health records from 2004 to 2014. The study looked at the probability of obese patients attaining normal weight or a 5% reduction in body weight; patients who received bariatric surgery were excluded from the study. A minimum of three body mass index (BMI) records per patient was used to estimate weight changes.

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.

Overall, only 1,283 men and 2,245 women with a BMI of 30-35 reached their normal body weight, equivalent to an annual probability of 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women; for those with a BMI above 40, the odds increased to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women with severe obesity.

Weight cycling, with both increases and decreases in body weight, was also observed in more than a third of patients. The study concludes that current obesity treatments are 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.’

‘The main treatment options offered to obese patients in the UK are weight management programmes accessed via their GP. This evidence suggests the current system is not working for the vast majority of obese patients.’

‘Once an adult becomes obese, it is very unlikely that they will return to a healthy body weight. New approaches are urgently needed to deal with this issue. 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.’

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.’

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Jenny Gimpel, PR Manager (Health) in the King’s College London press office on tel: +44 (0)20 7848 4334, email jenny.gimpel@kcl.ac.uk

‘Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records’ by Fildes et al is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

This research was supported by the UK National Institutes for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research program (Number 12/5005/12).

About King’s College London

King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2014/15 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 26,500 students (of whom nearly 10,400 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and nearly 6,900 staff. The university is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

For more information, please visit King’s in Brief.

About NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) Programme was established to fund a broad range of research. It builds on the strengths and contributions of two NIHR research programmes: the Health Services Research (HSR) programme and the Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO) programme, which merged in January 2012. The programme aims to produce rigorous and relevant evidence on the quality, access and organisation of health services, including costs and outcomes. The programme will enhance the strategic focus on research that matters to the NHS. The HS&DR Programme is funded by the NIHR with specific contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. www.nets.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/hsdr

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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