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Two women walk across a footbridge. Link to photo information
Volunteers in the Every Size approach were asked to find an enjoyable, appropriate form of physical activity, such as walking. The focus was on improving health, not losing weight. Click the image for more information about it.

Fighting Weight Gain a Different Way

By Marcia Wood
March 2, 2006

Education and coaching centered on health—rather than on weight loss—may help chronic dieters improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and other health indicators.

That's according to a study documented earlier in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and newly summarized in an obesity-focused issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The magazine is published by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief research agency.

ARS chemist Nancy Keim and physiologist Marta Van Loan, both with ARS' Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, Calif., collaborated with University of California-Davis researchers for the study.

Seventy-eight obese women, aged 30 to 45, who volunteered for the investigation were assigned to either a health-centered team or a weight-loss-focused team. The teams met for specialized, 90-minute educational sessions weekly for the first six months of the year-long study, then met for six once-a-month sessions.

Both groups were instructed in nutrition basics. But women on the weight-loss track were taught how to monitor their weight and control their eating, while the other volunteers focused on how to build self-esteem and to recognize and follow the body's natural, internal cues to hunger and fullness.

Photo: Link to photo information
Chemist Erik Gertz and physiologist Marta Van Loan examine a tray of serum samples to be analyzed for indicators of obese volunteers' bone health. Click the image for more information about it.

A total of 38 women—19 from each team—participated in a panel of follow-up exams two years after the study's start. The health-centered volunteers had kept their weight stable. In contrast, the weight-loss volunteers lost weight by the sixth month of the study, but had regained it by the two-year checkpoint.

At the start and end of the study, all volunteers' total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure were in the normal range. However, the health-centered women lowered their total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and they were able to maintain those reductions. The weight-loss women didn't lower their total cholesterol at any point in the investigation. In addition, they weren't able to maintain the healthful decrease in systolic blood pressure that they'd achieved just after the six-month weight-loss phase.