Current weight management programs that emphasize dieting and exercise are not effective in fighting obesity at the population level, researchers from King’s College London stated. Findings from the study are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study monitored the weight of 129,914 men and 149,788 women via electronic health records from 2004–2014. The team evaluated the probability of obese patients recovering to normal weight or a 5% reduction in body weight, and estimated weight changes with a minimum of three body mass index (BMI) records per patient.

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Data showed the annual chance of obese patients achieving 5% weight loss was 1 in 12 for men and 1 in 10 for women. More than half (53%) of people who achieved 5% weight loss regained the weight within 2 years and 78% within 5 years. Only 1,283 men and 2,245 women with a BMI 30–35 attained their normal body weight, which translates to an annual probability of 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women. For people with severe obesity (BMI >40), the probability jumped to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women. Fluctuations in body weight were also seen in over a third of patients.

Professor Martin Gulliford, senior author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, said: “Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss. The greatest opportunity for stemming the current obesity epidemic is in wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population.”

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