Adults Of Any Age Can Improve Health By Losing Weight

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Weight loss at any age can yield long-term heart and vascular benefits, says new research published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. The study's findings indicate that adults who drop a Body Mass Index (BMI) category during their adult life from obese to overweight or from overweight to normal can reduce cardiovascular problems even if they gain the weight back. 

The data was culled from a study by the UK Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development in the United Kingdom. The study followed 1,273 men and women since birth in March 1946 and examined the impact of lifelong patterns of weight change on cardiovascular risk factors. Participants were classified as normal weight, overweight or obese in childhood and at 36, 43, 53 and 60 to 64 years of age. Cardiovascular phenotyping between the ages of 60 and 64 with carotid intima media thickness was used to assess the effect of lifetime exposure to adiposity on cardiovascular risk factors.

The findings showed that the longer the exposure to excess body fat in adulthood the greater the cardiovascular-related problems in later life. These include increased thickness of the carotid artery walls, raised systolic blood pressure, and increased risk of diabetes.

Our study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time, more than 60 years, and allowed us to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes in adiposity, says lead author Professor John Deanfield from University College London in the UK. Our findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits, and support public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight at all ages.

Although it is encouraging that even transitory weight loss during adulthood has cardiovascular benefits, only two participants in the present study had a sustained reduction in BMI category in adulthood, underscoring the importance of weight maintenance and prevention of weight gain as priorities for public health programming and policy, added Elizabeth Cespedes of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass. Improvements in diet and increases in physical activity are crucial levers of long-term weight maintenance and prevention of weight gain in middle age and early adulthood. Overweight individuals might have even greater health benefit from lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity than do normal weight individuals.

The results of this study affirm a continued emphasis on public health policies that enable lifestyle changes to achieve and especially to maintain a healthy BMI, Cespedes added. Ideally, future research will address long-term patterns of intentional versus unintentional weight loss, the means to achieve weight loss, and the weight loss maintenance necessary to reduce cardiovascular endpoints.

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