Q: How much weight do I need to lose in order to get health benefits?
A: If you are overweight, losing at least five percent of your weight is what research identifies as “clinically meaningful.” That means it leads to changes big enough to matter for conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, triglyceride levels (a fat in the blood linked to heart disease risk), blood sugar control (in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes) and insulin resistance. A five percent weight loss translates to 13 pounds for someone who weighs 250 pounds, 10 pounds for someone who weighs 200, or 9 pounds for someone who weighs 180. Weight loss of 10 percent tends to produce even greater improvements in these health measures.
To reduce cancer risk, the lowest risk for several cancers is seen at the low end of what’s labeled a healthy BMI (body mass index). Cancer is a disease that develops over years, so risk is unlikely to change immediately with weight loss. However, since research shows that factors like elevated insulin levels that promote cancer decrease with even five percent weight loss, it seems reasonable to expect that cancer risk may change with relatively modest losses, too. In a large study of weight gain and loss in post-menopausal women, the most common pattern of body weight was a consistent increase throughout adulthood, and these women had the highest rates of breast cancer. Compared to this group, women who gained weight during some period of adulthood but then lost and maintained at least 5 percent of their body weight, decreased their risk of breast cancer by 20 percent or more. For any individual, the healthiest weight loss recommendations may vary, so do discuss this with your doctor. And remember that the benefit comes in losing excess fat – not lean muscle – and in maintaining whatever weight loss you achieve. During and after weight loss, focus on creating and maintaining a healthy new lifestyles.