A study published in The Lancet: Diabetes and Endocrinology suggests that it’s never too late to lose weight. Researchers found that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits.
The study was led by a team of British scientists, who monitored the weight loss changes and cardiovascular health of men and women over a period of 60 years. The study noted that the longer the exposure to excess body fat in adulthood, the greater the cardiovascular-related problems in later life, including increased thickness of the carotid artery walls, raised systolic blood pressure, and increased risk of diabetes.
The study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time and allowed researchers to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes in body fat. The findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits. The study also supports public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that can help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight.
The findings indicate that adults who drop a Body Mass Index (BMI) category – from obese to overweight, or from overweight to normal – at any time during their adult life (even if they regain weight), can experience cardiovascular benefits.
BMI is equal to a person’s weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared.
- BMI between 18.5 and 25 is classified as normal or healthy weight.
- BMI between 25 and 30 is classified as overweight.
- BMI between 30 and 40 is classified as obese.
- BMI over 40 is classified as very obese or “morbidly obese.”
Study participants were sorted according to BMI category – normal weight, overweight or obese – in childhood and then at ages 36, 43, 53 and 60-64 years. Researchers also categorized individuals’ cardiovascular risk, using the measured thickness of each participant’s carotid artery (this measure is a surrogate marker for cardiovascular events). They then assessed the effect of lifetime excess body fat on cardiovascular risk.
While the study does support weight loss at any age, keeping the weight off is equally important. Subsequent studies stress that dietary changes and increased physical activity are crucial for long-term weight maintenance and researchers suggest that our focus should be on public health policies that enable lifestyle changes to achieve and, especially, to maintain a healthy BMI.