Overweight individuals who lose more than a fifth of their body weight more than double their chances of achieving good metabolic health, compared to those who only lose a relatively small amount, according to a new study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“If you’re overweight or obese, even losing just a little is better than none. But the rewards appear to be greater for those who manage to lose more,” said Greg Knell, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“The evidence to date suggests that a 5 to 10 percent weight loss for those with excess weight is beneficial to one’s health. A higher level could potentially lead to lower cardiometabolic risk.”

The study is representative of people in the United States who are trying to lose weight, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

Using data of 7,670 adult participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers looked at weight history and physical examination scores, including waist size, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to determine metabolic health.

Participants who lost between five and 10 percent were 22 percent less likely to have metabolic syndrome, a combination of conditions which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, three of the country’s most lethal health problems. But those who lost more than 20 percent were able to decrease their odds of metabolic syndrome by 53 percent.

However, the study also revealed how hard Americans find it to lose any weight at all. Despite trying, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of participants, with an average age of 44, were unable to lose between 5 and 10 percent — the recommended target for adults with excess weight, according to the American Heart Association.

While almost one in five (19 percent) achieved this, only 1 in 20 (5 percent) succeeded in losing greater than or equal to 20 percent.

“Since weight loss is so difficult, a 5 to 10 percent weight loss for those with excess weight should be the target. This should be done gradually through following a healthy lifestyle with guidance from experts, such as your primary care provider,” said Knell.

Since the researchers analyzed data at a specific point in time, more studies would be required to monitor the same individuals at multiple points to see if these findings still hold true.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.

“Future research should continue exploring effective strategies to help individuals achieve and maintain a healthy weight which includes individual strategies and social support,” said study co-author Qing Li, M.A., M.Ed., senior analyst at the American Cancer Society.

Source: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston