Weight loss – for so many Americans it is an elusive and recurring personal goal. According to the CDC, over two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. A Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans report wanting to lose weight. Reasons for desiring weight loss vary, but many may think that they will feel happier, look better, and be more satisfied with themselves. However, the benefits of weight loss are far more than just improved happiness and contentment when we look in the mirror. Research suggests that weight loss may greatly improve your health and decrease the risk of developing disease or disease complications. In fact, research also suggests that losing weight could possibly even save your life.
When an individual is overweight or obese, the chance of developing certain diseases and conditions increases greatly. Specifically, some of the obesity-related diseases of concern are diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. In diabetes, weight reduction can help to improve the individual’s control of blood glucose levels, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications, including mortality. One prospective analysis demonstrated a 28% decrease in diabetes mortality with intentional weight loss (1). Not only does weight loss have an impact on blood glucose, but also on improving high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels which are considered major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. One study found that even just a modest reduction in weight, 10% of initial body weight or less (e.g. 25 lbs or less for a 250 lb. individual), resulted in health improvements including decreased cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and even appeared to increase longevity in obese individuals (2). Having excess body weight may also impact the risk for developing some types of cancer, including, pancreas, colon/rectum, and breast. According to the American Cancer Society, as many as 1 out of 5 of all cancer-related deaths are contributed to by being overweight or obese. One data analysis found that if every adult reduced their BMI by just 1 point, this would actually eliminate about 100,000 new cases of cancer by the year 2030(3). BMI is calculated based on an individual’s weight and height which indicates weight status (underweight, normal, overweight, or obese).
Many of us desire to lose weight, but statistically few achieve it. For those who have tried, most would attest it is difficult. There are, however, a few simple first steps to take to help create a healthier lifestyle and work toward weight loss. Start slow with dietary changes: eat a little less at meals, take larger portions of fruits and vegetables, and take smaller portions of grains, proteins, and desserts. Keep a food journal – write down everything you eat or drink, no exceptions! Smart phone apps make tracking food intake super easy and convenient. Find small ways to start incorporating more physical activity into your day. If possible, find a partner to help keep you accountable to your new healthy lifestyle changes. Finally, keep perspective – it’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about your overall weight loss goal. Remember to celebrate the little milestones, whether it be your jeans fitting looser, an improvement in your physical endurance, or seeing those first few pounds come off. All the little healthy changes can add up to make a huge impact on your overall health, and yes, may even save your life.
- Williamson DF1, Thompson TJ, Thun M, Flanders D, Pamuk E, Byers T. Intentional weight loss and mortality among overweight individuals with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2000; 10:1499-504.
- Goldstein DJ1. Beneficial health effects of modest weight loss. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1992; 16(6):397-415.
- Obesity and cancer risk. National Cancer Institute Web Site. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet. Updated Jan 3, 2012. Accessed October 19, 2015.