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March 22, 2000 (New York) -- Like Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the idea that people tend to gain five pounds or more during the holiday season may be a myth. People appear, on average, to gain slightly more than a pound from Thanksgiving to New Year's, according to a study in Thursday's issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine.

But that's not to say that all that turkey and fruitcake doesn't take a toll. Unfortunately, most people don't drop that pound or so after the holiday season is over, the researchers report. And people who are overweight to start with are more likely to gain five holiday pounds or more.

In the study of 195 adults who were weighed before the winter holidays (from late September or early October to mid-November), during the holidays (from mid-November to early or mid-January), and again after the season (from early to mid-January to late February or early March), participants were found to have gained an average of 1.06 pounds by late February or early March. Most of the gain occurred during the six-week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. A year after the study began, 165 participants who were weighed again were, on average, up about 1.36 pounds from their initial weights, the study showed.

"This is a good news/bad news story," study author Jack A. Yanovski, MD, head of the National Institutes of Health Unit on Growth and Obesity in Bethesda, Md., tells WebMD. "The good news is that most people are not gaining five or six pounds during the holidays, but the bad news is that weight gained over the winter holidays isn't lost during the rest of the year, " he says.

"The most important message is that everybody needs to be concerned about the small increases in weight that occur over the holiday season because it adds up over the years and can cause medical problems," Yanovski adds.

"These findings suggest that developing ways to avoid holiday weight gain may be extremely important for preventing obesity and the diseases associated with it," Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, says in a written statement.

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