A recent 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 beginning with their birth in 1946. The study noted that the longer the exposure to excess body fat (adiposity) 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.
According to lead author Professor John Deanfield from University College London (UCL) in the UK, “Our study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time, more than 60 years, and allowed us to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes in adiposity. Our findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits, and support public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight at all ages.”
The findings also indicate that adults who drop a BMI category – from obese to overweight, or from overweight to normal – at any time during their adult life (even if they regain weight), can reduce these risks.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index, a measure that is widely used to define overweight and obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) have been using it as the standard for recording obesity statistics since the early 1980s. 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 age 36, 43, 53 and 60-64 years. Researchers also categorized individuals’ cardiovascular risk, using the measured thickness of each participant’s carotid artery (known as the cIMT or carotid intima media thickness, this measure is a surrogate marker for cardiovascular events). From relating BMI to cIMT, they assessed the effect of lifetime excess body fat or adiposity on cardiovascular risk.
While the study does support weight loss at any age, keeping the weight off is equally important. In an accompanying commentary, Elizabeth Cespedes and Frank Hu, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, say it is encouraging that even a temporary loss of weight may have cardiovascular benefits. However, they stress that dietary changes and increased physical activity are crucial for long-term weight maintenance and our focus should be on “public health policies that enable lifestyle changes to achieve and, especially, to maintain a healthy BMI.”