A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford suggests that despite regaining some weight, people who participate in behavioural weight loss programmes still have lower risks for heart disease and type 2 diabetes years later. The study analysed data from over 60,000 adults from 124 randomised controlled trials of behavioural weight management programmes. These programmes encourage changes to diet or exercise habits to affect weight loss. Across trials, people who participated in these programmes lost an average of 2.8 more kilograms of weight than people in control groups. They also regained 0.12 to 0.32 more kilograms each year after the programme ended. However, people who participated in these programmes also saw small yet significant long-term reductions in cholesterol, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Five years after ending a programme, participants’ cholesterol ratio was an average of 1.5 points lower than before the programme. They also saw a statistically significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and blood sugar levels. There was evidence, however, that the more weight that is gained back over time, the smaller and shorter-lasting these improvements are.
While the study found no statistically significant difference in incidences of cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes between those who participated in weight loss programmes and those who didn’t five years on, the fact that there was a modest change in risk factors is meaningful. More research is needed to understand why weight regain doesn’t completely reverse the health benefits of weight loss. It could be that improvements in diet and exercise benefit health independent of weight loss, or it may also be that weight loss delays the onset of health issues. The study suggests that the benefits of weight loss are not completely lost even if weight is regained. Thus, people who have obesity and lose weight through behavioural weight loss programmes should not be discouraged by the possibility of regaining some weight.