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According to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, yo-yo dieting may make it harder for some individuals to control a variety of heart disease risk factors. 

At the AHA’s Go Red for Women strategically focused research network at Columbia University in New York, investigators studied 485 women (average age 37 years, 61% racial/ethnic minorities, average BMI 26; in the overweight range). These women reported how many times (other than during pregnancies) they had lost at least 10 pounds, only to regain the weight within a year. They were assessed on the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, a measure of how well people control important heart disease risk factors (including BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, smoking, physical activity and diet).

Most of the women (73%) reported at least one episode of yo-yo weight loss, with a range of zero to 20 episodes. Researchers found that, on Life’s Simple 7, women with one or more episodes of yo-yo weight loss were:

  • 82% less likely to have an optimal BMI (between 18.5 and 25; neither underweight nor overweight for their height)
  • 51% less likely to be rated as moderate
  • 65% less likely to be rated as optimal overall

According to the researchers, the more episodes of weight cycling reported, the poorer the women scored on Life’s Simple 7. The detrimental impact of weight cycling on the overall Life’s Simple 7 score was most striking in women who had never been pregnant.

 Brooke Aggarwal, EdD MS, senior author of the study and assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, said, “The study is limited in not differentiating unintentional from intentional weight loss, and in being based on self-reported data and measures taken at a single time.” Professor Aggarwal stressed that the team cannot currently tease apart whether yo-yo dieting has adverse effects on Life’s Simple 7 factors or rather that those who don’t adhere to guidance on Life’s Simple 7 have a harder time maintaining low weight and end up yo-yo dieting more frequently. The study’s results in women may not be the same as for men.

The researchers hope to extend the study from five to 10 years to confirm the results and look at long-terms effects. According to Professor Aggarwal, there has been prior research that showed similar results in men, with those who weight cycled having twice the risk of cardiovascular death in middle age.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, told FitPro, “Weight loss and regain can be an ongoing battle for some. Finding an approach that will work for you in the long term is more important than quick-fixes. Being obese is a major risk factor for heart and circulatory disease, but eating to reduce your risk isn’t just about weight. A well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, pulses and wholegrains has benefits for a range of risk factors and should be combined with other lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity, stopping smoking, and cutting down on alcohol.”

 {News source} American Heart Association. “Yo-yo dieting may increase women’s heart disease risk.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2019. <>.