Bioethics Blogs

Obesity Research: Study Shows Significant Benefits of Modest Weight Loss

For the one in three American adults who are obese, recommendations to lose substantial amounts of weight through a combination of diet and exercise can seem daunting and, at times, hopeless. But a new study should come as encouraging news for all those struggling to lose the extra pounds: even a modest goal of 5 percent weight loss delivers considerable health benefits.

In the NIH-funded study, people with obesity who lost just 5 percent of their body weight—about 12 pounds on average—showed improvements in several risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also showed metabolic improvements in many parts of the body, including the liver, pancreas, muscle, and fat tissue. While people who lost additional weight enjoyed further improvements in their health, the findings reported in the journal Cell Metabolism show that sometimes it really does pay to start small [1].

Doctors today often recommend that their patients who are obese lose 5 to 10 percent of their weight in accordance with current treatment guidelines [2]. While these guidelines are quite helpful, many individuals find that loss of 10 percent is a very difficult challenge, and it’s been unclear how much of a boost patients might receive to their metabolism and heart health by aiming for the more achievable goal of 5 percent.

To find out, Samuel Klein of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and his colleagues randomly assigned 40 obese women and men to one of two groups. In one group, participants maintained their body weight. In the other, they cut their calories and ate “self-prepared foods” to lose 5 percent, 10 percent, or 15 percent of their weight.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.