Losing Weight to Go from Obese to Overweight Halves Death Risk, Study Suggests

Going from obsese to overweight could half a person's risk of dying, according to a study.

To answer whether losing weight between early adulthood and middle age is linked to a lower risk of dying later in life, the researchers studied 24,205 adults from the U.S. who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1998 through 2015.

The participants, who were aged 40 to 74 years old at the start of the study, provided information about how much they currently weighed, as well as at age 25, and 10 years before they joined the project. The team compared how much participants said they weighed at the age of 25 and again in later life, and looked to see if this affected their chances of dying.

Body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight, was a variable in the study. Participants who went from obese, or a BMI of 30 or higher, in early adulthood to overweight, or a BMI of 25 to 29, in midlife had a 54 percent lower risk of dying than those who stayed obese, according to the study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Only 0.8 percent of the obese participants in the study were able to lose weight and become overweight.

The researchers estimated that 3 percent of early deaths could have been prevented if people who were obese became overweight by the time they reached middle age. Stopping people in the normal range from gaining weight could have prevented 12 percent of premature deaths.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of people in the country were obese in 2017/2018—a rise from 30 percent in 1999/2000.

Conditions related to obesity, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable deaths in the U.S., the agency states.

Co-author JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement: "Although this study focused on preventing premature deaths, maintaining a healthy weight will also reduce the burden of many chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer."

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