Any Weight-Loss Approach for Obesity Reduces Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

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Any Weight-Loss Approach for Obesity Reduces Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

People with obesity who adopted a strategy to lose weight had as lower risk for type 2 diabetes regardless of which common weight-loss method they used, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Research has shown that body weight and type 2 diabetes are related in a number of ways. While multiple factors affect a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, body weight appears to play a larger role than a person’s genes. For people with type 2 diabetes who are overweight or obese, losing a moderate amount of body weight increases the likelihood of diabetes remission — having normal blood glucose levels without taking any glucose-lowering medications. Low-calorie diets and meal replacements, in particular, have been shown to be effective for weight loss and diabetes remission, and the same is true for bariatric (weight-loss) surgery.

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For the latest study, researchers looked at how attempting to lose weight through different methods — as well as actual body weight changes — were related to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The participants were 104,180 mostly healthy professionals, mostly women, who took part in a large general health research project. At the time they began the study in 1988 or 1989, none of the participants had type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. Based on survey responses in 1992, the researchers determined which participants lost at least 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds) of their body weight through one of seven different methods — a low-calorie diet, exercise, a low-calorie diet combined with exercise, fasting, a commercial weight-loss program, diet pills, or a combination of at least two methods among fasting, commercial weight-loss programs, and diet pills.

Type 2 diabetes risk reduced by any weight-loss method for those with obesity

The researchers tracked participants’ weight changes over time, and new cases of type 2 diabetes were recorded through 2016. It turned out that adopting any weight-loss strategy was linked to a significantly reduced risk for type 2 diabetes — but only among participants who had obesity when they adopted this strategy. Among these participants, the risk for type 2 diabetes ranged from 13% lower for diet pills to 21% lower for exercise.

For participants who were overweight but not obese, some weight-loss methods appeared to be beneficial for type 2 diabetes prevention, while others appeared to be harmful. Among these participants, the risk for type 2 diabetes ranged from 42% higher for diet pills to 9% lower for exercise.

For lean participants, any weight-loss strategy was harmful when it came to the risk for type 2 diabetes. Among these participants, the risk for type 2 diabetes ranged from 54% higher for diet pills to 9% higher for exercise.

One important difference between participants with obesity and overweight or lean participants who lost weight using any method is that those who started out with obesity were less likely to regain body weight during the follow-up period. This more consistent weight loss may account for the greater benefit seen in participants with obesity when it came to reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes.

The researchers concluded that while any weight-loss method appears to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes in people with obesity, “intentional weight loss may not be beneficial for lean individuals,” who have no medical indication to start a weight-loss program — for diabetes prevention or any other reason.

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Losing Weight Without Feeling Hungry,” and “Seven Ways to Lose Weight.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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