Losing weight is an effective way to reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, even if weight gain reoccurs, according to a study.

Researchers at the University of Oxford worked in collaboration with the British Heart Foundation to show the benefits of losing weight lasted for at least five years for both heart health and type 2 diabetes risk.

The researchers hope that the new research, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, will encourage healthcare professionals to suggest behavioural weight loss programmes to their patients even if there is a risk that weight gain may reoccur.

The NHS estimates that one in four adults in the UK are living with obesity, which can significantly impact their health, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to high cholesterol and high blood pressure. There is also an increased risk of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. In the UK, weight-related illnesses are thought to cost the NHS £6.1 billion per year (based on 2014/15 statistics) and costs are expected to keep rising.

The researchers looked at the results of 124 scientific studies available in 2018 to compare the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in people who followed an intensive behavioural weight loss programme with those who followed a less intensive regime or no weight loss programme.

The analysis involved data from over 50,000 participants and included a variety of exercise and diet plans with different delivery modes, including in-person and app-based. The average follow-up time in the studies was 28 months.

Compared to people in a less intensive programme or those not participating in weight loss programmes, participants in intensive programmes had lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These included lower systolic blood pressure levels, 1.5 mm Hg lower at one year, and 0.4 mm Hg lower at five years after participating in an intensive weight loss programme.

People taking part in the high-intensity weight loss programme also had healthier cholesterol levels and lower HbA1c levels, a marker for diabetes. The benefits seen through the lower risk factors for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes lasted for at least five years after the weight loss programme ended.

Professor Susan Jebb from the University of Oxford said: ‘Many doctors and patients recognise that weight loss is often followed by weight regain, and they fear that this renders an attempt to lose weight pointless.’

She fears that this concept has become a barrier to supporting people to lose weight. ‘For people with overweight or obesity issues, losing weight is an effective way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,’ she said.

According to the researchers, the changes seen by analysing a large body of work are important because the findings represent improvements at the population level.

Professor Jebb added: ‘Individual studies are often too small to detect differences between groups in the incidence of cardiovascular conditions because, fortunately, they affect only a small proportion of the whole group. Our findings should provide reassurance that weight loss programmes are effective in controlling cardiovascular risk factors and very likely to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.’

This article first appeared on our sister publication, Nursing in Practice.