Weight re-gained after weight loss results in less muscle, more fat, study finds

Posted by: Jamie Sharp - Posted on:

A Leicester study that measured the fat mass and fat-free (muscle) mass of dieters suggests that weight loss followed by weight regain has a negative impact on muscle mass. 

The findings of the study carried out by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) research team, published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism this week looked at the body composition of 622 adults at-risk of type 2 diabetes. 

The lead author, Tom Yates, Professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester, said: “The clinical and economic costs of obesity have driven an expansion in dietary interventions and pharmacological weight loss therapies. But sadly, weight regain is common over the longer-term with all diets or once obesity therapies are withdrawn. 

“This study raises important questions around the longer-term implications that cycles of weight loss followed weight regain has on body composition and long-term physical health.” 

This study took a close look at observations made on people at risk of type 2 diabetes taking part in the ‘Walking Away from type 2 diabetes’ behavioural intervention, which aimed to increase physical activity through walking. 

Participants’ annual weight change was assessed over two 24-month periods. Body composition was measured by bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), providing details on their fat mass and fat-free mass which was validated against dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans. 

Someone standing on a Tanita machine which measures body composition was measured by bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA),

Professor Yates said: “Fat-free mass is all of your body parts that do not contain fat, of which the largest component is muscle mass. A loss of fat-free mass occurs with aging, but can be further affected by lifestyle behaviours. Anything that acts to increase the loss of fat-free mass can therefore be thought of as accelerating the aging process with implication for the longer-term risk of muscle weakness and frailty.” 

The study found although the majority of participants maintained their body weight with no change to fat mass or fat free mass, some (4.5% of observations) lost over 5% of their body weight between the start of the study and 12 months, which was then regained between 12 to 24 months. 

Professor Yates continued: “What was particularly interesting to us was that the individuals who lost, and then regained weight, went on to regain all of their fat mass, but lost 1.5 kg of fat free mass. This equates to about a decade of aging. This suggests that ‘weight cycling’ may be associated with a progressively worsening body composition which could have knock-on effects for longer-term physical health.” 

To read the full paper please visit: https://dom-pubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dom.15400

The NIHR Leicester BRC is part of the NIHR and hosted by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in partnership with the University of Leicester, Loughborough University and the University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group. The Leicester Real World Evidence Unit is part of the Leicester Diabetes Centre. 

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