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Health, Science & Tech

Study: Weight Loss Does Not Lower Cardiovascular Risks ... Or Does it?

The longest study of the link between obesity among Type 2 diabetes patients and cardiovascular disease recently wrapped up, and it found that among the 5,145 participants, losing weight did not improve their chances of having hospital stays due to things like chest pain and heart attacks. 

However, researchers warn there is much more to the study once you start to dig a little deeper.

“At first pass you say that was an outright failure,” said John Jakicic, director of the University of Pittsburgh Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center. “If you look below the surface, you find that individuals were managing their risk factors in the lifestyle condition by using less medication.”

Jakicic said that means fewer potential side effects from taking large amounts of medication and much lower medical costs, which he said is important when one considered the number of overweight Type 2 Diabetes patients living on fixed incomes.

The National Institutes of Health-funded study began in 2001 and placed half of the participants on a weight loss program that included more physical activity and a better diet.

“Lower fat, a little bit more protein," Jakicic said, "a better quality of food.”

The participants at the 16 sites including Pittsburgh ranged in age from 45-70 when the 11-year study began. Among the control group, 418 participants either died from cardiovascular related factors or were admitted to the hospital for a non fatal heart attack, stoke or angina. That number fell to 403 among those who were put on the weight loss program.

But Jakicic said someone reading the study should also be thinking about quality of life. 

“Things like function," he said, "being able to get up and down out of a chair, being able to walk the steps, being able to walk from here to the bathroom. The intervention group did better than the control group.”

Researchers hope to continue to monitor the participants and could expand to other health indicators such as brain function.

Jakicic said he is worried that the study will be received as an indicator that more drugs, rather than weight loss is the answer. He hopes doctors will instead use the study as a reason to spend more time with overweight diabetics on strategies for weight loss.

“Because the reality is … there is probably not a medication out there that does not have a side effect,” Jakicic said.

Of the participants, 330 were enrolled in Pittsburgh.