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Yo-Yo Dieting Could Be Bad for Women’s Hearts

Losing and Regaining Weight Isn’t Healthy

In addition to being hugely ineffective at helping women keep the weight off, new research suggests yo-yo dieting may also set us up for a variety of heart disease risk factors.

Ah, the old get to a heart-healthy weight and maintain it forever trick.

If this sounds like a catch-22, it is. Reaching a healthy weight is good for your heart, but a perpetual cycle of losing and regaining the same 10 pounds could increase our risk of cardiovascular death in middle age.

Maintaining weight loss is difficult and fluctuations in weight may make it harder to achieve ideal cardiovascular health,” said Brooke Aggarwal, an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

For this research, 485 women (average age 37, 61 percent racial and ethnic minorities, average body mass index 26, which is considered overweight) reported the number of times (other than during pregnancies) they had lost at least 10 pounds, only to gain the weight back within a year. They then were assessed on the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, a measure of how well people control important heart disease risk factors, including body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, smoking, physical activity and diet.

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Nearly three-quarters of the women reported at least one episode of yo-yo weight loss; some women had as many as 20 episodes. Researchers found even one episode of yo-yo dieting increased the chances these women would be:

• 82 percent less likely to have an optimal body mass index (between 18.5 and 25)
• 51 percent less likely to be rated as moderate, and 65 percent less likely to be rated as optimal overall on Life’s Simple 7.

Obviously, the more episodes of weight cycling women reported, the worse their Life’s Simple 7 score, with the most detrimental impact of yo-yo dieting in women who had never been pregnant.

According to Aggarwal, the never-pregnant women were younger and thought to have started weight-cycling at an earlier age. “We need to identify critical periods for the effect of weight fluctuation on heart disease risk over the life course to find out whether it is worse when women start on a dieting roller-coaster at an early age,” she said.

The research is limited. It didn’t differentiate between intentional and unintentional weight loss, and it was based on self-reported data with measurements taken at a single time. Researchers plan to extend the study five to 10 years to confirm the results.

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