Scientists funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have identified strategies that might help young adults (aged 18 to 35 years) avoid weight gain. Their study, published May 2 in JAMA Internal Medicine, could help prevent obesity during this period, when individuals typically gain the most excess weight of their lifetimes. As many in this age group are typically parents of small children, the study also has the potential to break the cycle of obesity across generations.

The investigation involved 599 participants, half of whom had normal weight and half of whom were overweight. Through the study, participants were taught to weigh themselves frequently, daily if possible. One set of participants, referred to as the “small-change” group, was taught to use that information to make small dietary and physical activity changes if they experienced any weight gain (for example, smaller portions at meals, using stairs instead of elevators). Another group, referred to as the “large-change” group, was asked to lose 5 to 10 pounds to start and then to use the information from frequent weighing to try to maintain at least that amount of weight loss.

The researchers found that both groups were successful at preventing weight gain as compared to the control group, which received minimal instruction about preventing weight gain. Those in the small-change group lost an average of 1.2 pounds, while those in the large-change group lost nearly 5.2 pounds over two to three years. Those in the control group gained an average of a half of a pound. Additionally, nearly 20 percent of those in the control group became obese, while only about 8 percent of those who were taught to control their weight did.

Based on the study results, small dietary changes as well as physical activity and frequent weighing might help young adults successfully maintain their weight, particularly during the transition to adulthood. Maintaining a healthy weight as a young adult might also make it easier to continue weight-control measures later in life and to pass those habits to younger generations.

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Provided by: NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Journal References:

  1. Rena R. Wing, Deborah F. Tate, Mark A. Espeland, Cora E. Lewis, Jessica Gokee LaRose, Amy A. Gorin, Judy Bahnson, Letitia H. Perdue, Karen E. Hatley, Erica Ferguson, Katelyn R. Garcia, Wei Lang. Innovative Self-Regulation Strategies to Reduce Weight Gain in Young Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1236