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Heart health benefits of weight loss persist for years

Overweight or obese people are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This problem is often addressed through behavioral weight loss programs, which encourage lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and increasing physical activity. 

A new review study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes has identified a consistent decrease in risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes for at least five years after behavioral weight loss programs, even if some weight was eventually regained during that period.

“Many doctors and patients recognize that weight loss is often followed by weight regain, and they fear that this renders an attempt to lose weight pointless,” said study co-senior author Susan A. Jebb, a professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford. “This concept has become a barrier to offering support to people to lose weight. For people with overweight or obesity issues, losing weight is an effective way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

According to Professor Jebb, while many studies have already provided evidence that weight loss significantly improves heart health and reduces the risk of diabetes, most of them look at whether new treatments are effective and focus on weight change in the short-term rather than the effect on later disease. 

“Individual studies are often too small to detect differences between groups in the incidence of cardiovascular conditions because, fortunately, they affect only a small proportion of the whole group, and studies may not continue long enough to see the effects on ‘hard’ outcomes, such as a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or a heart attack.”

To overcome these limitations, the researchers analyzed 124 studies totaling over 50,000 participants, with an average follow-up of 28 months. The investigation revealed that, compared to people in less intensive programs and those in no weight loss programs, participants who lost weight through an intensive program had significantly lower risk factors for developing both cardiovascular disease and diabetes, exhibiting lower systolic blood pressure, reduced HbA1c (a protein in red blood cells involved in diabetes), and decreased levels of bad cholesterol.

Although this study had several limitations too – for instance, the information included in the review was not updated after 2019 and the reviewed studies were published solely in English – it nevertheless suggests that intensive weight loss programs might have major long-term clinical benefits. However, further research is needed to compare different types of weight loss interventions, their long-term impact, and how their positive outcomes may be diminished by regaining weight.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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