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News Flash: People Can Lose Weight

Posted by Dr. Suzanne Koven  April 10, 2012 08:14 PM

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weight loss.jpgA study published yesterday in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center offers what may be, for many, some unsurprising news: a large number of obese people try to lose weight. Furthermore and equally unsurprising, the most popular methods used by obese people trying to lose weight are exercising more, cutting calories, and eating less fat. Here's the surprising part: they actually lose weight.

The researchers questioned more than 4000 obese people who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001 and 2006. More than half of them reported trying to lose weight and 40% of them were able to lose at least five percent of their body weight in the previous year. 5% may not seem like much--that's 10 lbs if you weigh 200 lbs--and may not be anywhere near "ideal" weight. But even that modest weight loss can improve high blood pressure, diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) and many other conditions exacerbated by obesity.

Successful dieters were most likely to reduce fat and calories, join commercial diet programs, and exercise. A smaller number achieved weight loss with prescription diet pills. Liquid diets, popular ('fad') diets, diet foods and products, and nonprescription diet pills did not produce weight loss.

This study's authors acknowledge its limitations: self-reported information is not the most reliable and short-term weight loss is easier to accomplish than maintenance--which this study didn't address.

Still, it's a common perception that losing weight is impossible--a perception that prevents some of the one third of American adults who are obese from trying to do so.

This study helps change that perception by confirming what many of us who have seen people lose weight know: it can be done, and it doesn't require magic.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Suzanne Koven, M.D. practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She writes a monthly column for the Globe's G Health section and her essays have appeared in the More »

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