Yo-yo dieting can increase the risk of death. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Some experts actually estimate that 80 percent of dieters regain their weight.

There’s no doubt that dropping a few pounds if you’re overweight or obese is a boon to your health. Doing so may help lower your risk for type 2 diabetesheart disease, and other chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But new evidence supports the notion that repeatedly putting the weight back on — a phenomenon called weight cycling or “yo-yo dieting” — is associated with a shorter life span.

Dieting Can Lead to Premature Death

A new study shows a strong association between yo-yo dieting and a higher risk of heart disease and death. Weigh tcycling among people with coronary heart disease can even lead to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and mortality, according to a 2017 study.

Risks of Yo-Yo Dieting

Researchers at Seoul National University assessed the risks of losing and regaining weight in cycles. Hak C. Jang, study lead author and a professor at the Seoul National University College of Medicine, summarized the dieting study’s findings: This study shows that weight cycling can heighten a person’s risk of death.”

Tae Jung Oh, MD, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology and metabolism in the department of internal medicine at Seoul National University’s Bundang Hospital in South Korea makes this recommendation: “We want to recommend that people keep their ideal body weight,and if they tend to lose weight, they should try to keep their body weight from fluctuating.”

Dieting Cycling Study

Dr. Oh and his team conducted the study:

  • They analyzed the health information of 3,678 men and women ages 40 to 96, from the Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study.
  • The researchers measured participants’ weight and body mass index (BMI) two times per year.
  • BMI of 25 was considered overweight, which aligns with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) definition of overweight in the United States.
  • Researchers used a scientific formula called average successive variability to measure participants’ weight changes, and then compared them with participants’ death rates.
  • Over a median 14-year follow-up, they observed that 173 people whose weight fluctuated the most (9.4 percent among that group) died.
  • 90 of the participants whose weight fluctuated the least (4.9 percent among that group) died.
  • Of the 263 total deaths, 43 were attributed to heart disease.

Why Even a Little Weight Loss May Be Protective for People Who Are Overweight

The researchers found that participants whose weight changed the most tended to be obese and have higher blood pressure and hemoglobin A1C levels at baseline than those with low body weight changes. A1C is a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels that is used to diagnose diabetes.

Despite those individuals’ weight fluctuations, they saw a lower risk of diabetes at the study outset. But those at baseline with a BMI of 25 or less, which is considered normal or underweight, saw a higher risk of diabetes from their weight changes.

Mitchell Roslin, MD, who is the chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and was not involved in the new study, says “those who were overweight and obese were more likely to lose and gain. The fact that the obese who had variability had less diabetes is probably due to some weight they lost at the time.”

He says weight loss can help lower insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes, among people who are overweight or obese. So that may explain their lower risk for diabetes. Dr. Roslin also speculated that the normal-weight people may have been more genetically at risk for diabetes,in which case their glucose fluctuations may have driven the weight gain.

Other studies, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, have found that yo-yo dieting may increase weight and body fat, but may not necessarily increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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