Just 5% weight loss helps reduce risk of type 2 diabetes in overweight people

by Barbara Hewitt on February 25, 2016

A relatively small amount of weight loss markedly lowers an overweight person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, new research has found.

Indeed, a weight loss of just 5% of body weight is sufficient to produce the greatest health benefit, according to the study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, United States.

“The current guidelines for treating obesity recommend a 5% to 10% weight loss, but losing 5% of your body weight is much easier than losing 10%. So it may make sense for patients to aim at the easier target and it gives more effect,” said principal investigator Samuel Klein, director of Washington University’s Centre for Human Nutrition.


The researchers randomly assigned 40 obese individuals, none of whom had diabetes, to either maintain their body weight or go on a diet to lose 5%, 10% or 15% of body weight. The researchers looked at whole body, organ system and cellular responses before and after the weight loss.

While other randomized clinical trials have evaluated the effects of varying weight loss in people with obesity, this is thought to be the first time a trial has separated weight loss outcomes in people who achieved a 5% weight loss from those who achieved a 10% or greater weight loss.

Among the 19 study volunteers who lost 5% of their body weight, the function of insulin secreting beta cells improved, as did insulin sensitivity in fat tissue, liver and skeletal muscle tissue. A 5% weight loss also was associated with decreases in total body fat and with much less fat in the liver.

Meanwhile, nine of those study patients continued to lose weight, eventually reaching 15% weight loss. They experienced further improvements in beta cell function and insulin sensitivity in muscle tissue, but neither insulin sensitivity in the liver nor adipose (fat) tissue continued to improve with the greater weight loss.

“Continued weight loss is good, but not all organ systems respond the same way. Muscle tissue responds much more to continued weight loss, but liver and adipose tissue have pretty much achieved their maximum benefit at 5% weight loss,” Klein explained.

The researchers noted that markers of inflammation, which are elevated in people with obesity, didn’t change much when study subjects lost a moderate amount of weight. Although scientists hypothesize that increased inflammation in fat tissue contributes to metabolic problems such as insulin resistance, this study found that metabolic function could improve while markers of inflammation remain unchanged.

That element of the research will require further study and Klein also wants to expand the study to people who have diabetes. “We don’t know whether people with diabetes will have the same response to this type of progressive weight loss, so it will be important in the future to repeat this type of study in people who have type 2 diabetes,” he said.

In the meantime, Klein said people with obesity can benefit significantly from losing even a little bit of weight. “If you weigh 200 pounds, you will be doing yourself a favour if you can lose 10 pounds and keep it off. You don’t have to lose 50 pounds to get important health benefits,” he added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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