COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are plenty of different methods people use to lose weight, but not all of them work as well as you might think — especially if you’re not staying physically active. A new study finds that strategies like skipping meals and taking diet pills fail to significantly shed excess weight. Moreover, a team from The Ohio State University says these shortcut weight loss solutions aren’t helping to prevent another problem connected to obesity — heart disease.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of the death in the United States, and American adults still have ways to go as far as following measures for prevention and optimal health. While it’s easy to associate better health with losing weight by any means necessary, the new study says there’s more to the story.
In this study, researchers analyzed data from over 20,000 adults and compared weight loss strategies and results. They used the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8,” a heart disease reduction checklist providing optimal recommendations for body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, smoking, physical activity, diet, and sleep, as a tool for analysis.
“The Life’s Essential 8 is a valuable tool that provides the core components for cardiovascular health, many of which are modifiable through behavior change,” says senior study author Colleen Spees, associate professor of medical dietetics in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Ohio State, in a university release.
Americans get a failing grade for healthy lifestyle habits
The team found that U.S. adults scored an average of 60 percent on these eight healthy measures, which suggests that there’s a long road ahead as far as improving lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise.
“Based on the findings in this study, we have a lot of work to do as a country,” adds Spees. “Even though there were significant differences on several parameters between the groups, the fact remains that as a whole, adults in this country are not adopting the Life’s Essential 8 behaviors that are directly correlated with heart health.”
The team also found that 17,435 out of the 20,305 adult participants maintained or gained weight over the past year. The remaining participants reported an intentional loss of at least five percent of their body weight.
“Clinically significant weight loss results in improvements in some health indices,” explains Spees. “People should feel hopeful in knowing that losing just 5% of their body weight is meaningful in terms of clinical improvements. This is not a huge weight loss. It’s achievable for most, and I would hope that incentives people instead of being paralyzed with a fear of failure.”
Stopping heart disease before it starts
Those that had clinically significant weight loss reported having an overall higher quality diet, as measured by eating sufficient protein, keeping refined grains and added sugar to a minimum, engaging in moderate and vigorous physical activity, and having lower LDL cholesterol. However, the weight loss group also had a higher average body mass index and overall blood sugar, as well as fewer hours of sleep, which brought down their Life’s Essential 8 score.
Interestingly, those that didn’t make the cut for clinically significant weight loss often reported skipping meals and taking diet pills in an effort to shed the pounds. Some even reported following low-carb and liquid diets, taking laxatives or vomiting, and smoking.
“We saw that people are still gravitating to non-evidence-based approaches for weight loss, which are not sustainable. What is sustainable is changing behaviors and eating patterns,” says Spees.
Given these results, Spees urges for an effort that shifts to prevention rather than picking up the pieces after heart disease happens.
“We absolutely need to be moving toward prevention of disease versus waiting until people are diagnosed with a disease. This becomes quite overwhelming, and individuals may feel it’s too late at that point,” the researcher explains.
“We have fantastic research, we have incredible educators,” Spees concludes. “What we don’t have is policy that promotes optimal health across the lifespan, from pregnancy through older adulthood.”
The findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.