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Trends Seen in National Weight Control Registry Members

Nov. 16, 2004 -- Want to lose weight and keep it off for good? A low-fat diet might the best bet in the long run, according to new research.

The news is based on a study of more than 2,700 members of the National Weight Control Registry, which was established 10 years ago and consists of people who have shed at least 30 pounds and maintained their new figures for at least one year.

That's an impressive track record. Many dieters who lose weight gain it back before long.

Suzanne Phelan, PhD, of Brown University's medical school, and colleagues tracked weight loss strategies and long-term results of registry members enrolling in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003.

The researchers compared behavioral and dietary changes of registry members to gauge the effect of recent diet trends, such as the low-carb craze of recent years, on weight maintenance.

Several trends stood out.

Calorie intake was roughly the same -- about 1,400 per day -- for members studied from 1995-2003. However, more recent trends showed that some newer members spent more of those calories on fat and devoted fewer to carbohydrates.

From 1995 to 2003, the daily percentage of calories from fat increased from 24% to 30%. In addition, saturated fat intake rose from 12.3 to 14 grams per day, and calories from carbohydrates fell from 56% to 49%, say the researchers.

The proportion of members eating a low-carb diet (less than 90 grams of carbohydrates per day) rose from 6% to 17%.

In contrast, the first registry entrants ate low-fat, low-calorie diets and had high levels of physical activity, say the researchers.

That may have been a better strategy, since eating more calories, boosting fat intake (or cutting carbohydrates), and reducing exercise were all tied to regained weight.

"Only a minority of successful weight losers consume low carbohydrate diets," say the researchers.

"While baseline diet is not related to regain, individuals who increased their fat intake over 1 year regained the most weight, suggesting that the continued consumption of a low-fat diet is important to long-term success."

Phelan's team reported their findings in Las Vegas at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity's annual scientific meeting.

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