On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Medical Benefits of Weight Loss

There are many reasons besides physical appearance to get started on a weight loss program.

Medical Benefits of Weight Loss

When people launch themselves earnestly into a weight-loss program, their motivations are most commonly things like improving appearance, having more energy and other readily noticeable factors. The doctors that might have encouraged them to embark on a fat-reduction program may be more precisely concerned with things like lowering blood pressure and reducing disease risk factors. We've known for a while that improvements in the standard measures can be enjoyed by all weight losers, including those who do not attain the slim silhouette they may have desired when they started. Even a 10 percent loss of body weight can mean significant health improvements.

But there is some intriguing evidence that seems to indicate that it's not just that you're likely to have better blood pressure at a lower body weight, or that shedding some of the excess body fat can actually improve some of your blood chemistry. Apparently, there are health benefits to be gained from losing weight--the actual process of losing--even distinct from being at the eventual lighter weight achieved.

Now, that might seem like an inseparable distinction. You can't very well get to a lighter body mass index without losing some weight. But here's the thing: when researchers examined overweight people of a certain body mass index, the ones who had dropped pounds to get into that weight class were overall healthier than the ones who had gained their way into it--even though they were all still overweight!

Well, then what do we mean by healthier? There are so many problems associated with being overweight, things like hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hyperlipidemia (high blood fats), osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, breathing problems, gall bladder disease, and psychological disorders like depression. Doctors call these comorbidities, because they can be tracked distinct from the weight excess, even though they're related.

You can take your pick of relevant tests to see if there's been an improvement in comorbidities. Of course there's blood pressure and blood sugar and lipid levels; you can examine insulin production and whether it's too high or low; you can test cholesterol levels, track sleeping and breathing patterns. And then there are subjective measures like how a person feels. Most of these measures as well as a few others were used for this study.

Here's how they figured it all out. The research was done in Australia, with a very carefully selected group of participants, all people who were roughly matched by age and size, with a stable BMI--or body mass index--between 30 and 35, which is the range for the definition of clinical obesity. On a person who is 5-foot, 9-inches in height, that's up to about 235 pounds. Half these people were patients of gastric banding surgeries who had already lost a lot of weight, in some cases, up to 100 pounds. Most people following gastric banding lose 50 to 60 percent of their excess weight by about two years after surgery. The subjects in this study were three-years post-surgery and had basically quit losing weight and stabilized in the 30 to 35 BMI range.

Now, the conventional wisdom would anticipate that people in that BMI range would experience all the usual health problems that are associated with obesity--the comorbidities listed above. But no! The researchers reported that these still-heavy-but-less-heavy-than-before folks were able to achieve major improvements in their comorbidities and overall quality of life such that they were "similar to normal."