People who are trying to lose weight will soon discover one of the unexpected benefits of the process: even a modest drop in weight can lower the risks of health problems related to being overweight or obese, according to a new study. The news may help motivate the millions of Americans who struggle to change their eating habits and increase physical activity. There is nothing easy about losing weight, but the study demonstrates that “you get a large bang for your buck with a 5 percent weight loss,” according to the senior author, Samuel Klein of Washington University School of Medicine. The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Klein and his colleagues compared the health outcomes of obese men and women who lost varying degrees of weight—5, 10 or 15 percent of their body weight. They found that losing as little as 5 percent (that’s 7.5 pounds in someone who weighs 150 lbs.) led to significant health benefits. All of the study participants, even those who only lost a few pounds, showed signs of improvement in insulin-resistant glucose metabolism, which means the ability of the body to process sugar in the blood. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Having diabetes raises the risk for heart disease. Participants who lost 10 percent or even 15 percent of their body weight experienced even greater improvements in glucose metabolism.
Obesity treatment guidelines typically state that people should aim for a weight loss of 5 to 10 percent to achieve health benefits. But, Klein notes, “It is much easier to achieve a 5 percent weight loss than it is to achieve a 10 percent weight loss.” He suggests changing obesity practice guidelines to set the target for weight loss at 5 percent, believing the 5 to 10 percent window “increases the perception of failure” when patients are unable to exceed 5 percent.
“We hope that these findings will encourage obese people to take reasonable steps to watch what they eat and increase their physical activity, because this will translate into a lower risk for diabetes and heart disease,” Klein said.