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The question

People often find it hard to achieve the ultimate goal of weight loss: keeping the weight off. Does the pattern of weight loss — how much you lose and when — make a difference?

This study

The researchers analyzed data on 183 adults (average age, 51) who had been overweight or obese and completed a one-year weight-loss program. The group-oriented program involved a variety of weight-loss methods, including monitoring calories, increasing physical activity and occasionally using meal replacements. Overall, weight loss early in the program predicted a long-term change in weight. However, people who lost a consistent number of pounds each week during the first six to 12 weeks of the program were likely to lose more weight during the program and more likely to have maintained their weight loss after two years than were those whose weight had fluctuated early on. For instance, when comparing people who had lost three pounds in three weeks, someone who lost one pound each week had a better long-term outcome than someone who lost four pounds one week, regained two the next and lost one pound the third week.

Who may be affected?

Adults who want to lose weight. Among Americans 20 and older, an estimated 70 percent are overweight or obese. Being overweight can contribute to numerous health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and certain cancers.

Caveats

The analysis did not address whether any particular weight-loss method was better than any other at achieving consistent weight loss. People who had a more steady weight loss during the program may have followed their regimen more closely in the subsequent year.

Find this study

September issue of Obesity (obesityjournal.org)

Learn more

Information on the health effects of being overweight is available at helpguide.org/harvard (and then scroll down to "How excess weight . . . "). Tips on choosing a weight-loss program can be found at niddk.nih.gov (click on "Health Information," then "Weight Management").

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.