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Guidelines on Overweight and Obesity: Electronic Textbook
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Weight Loss

Target Levels for Weight Loss

The initial target goal of weight loss therapy for overweight patients is to decrease body weight by about 10 percent. If this target can be achieved, consideration can be given to the next step of further weight loss. 


Evidence Statement: Overweight and obese patients in well-designed programs can achieve a weight loss of as much as 10 percent of baseline weight, a weight loss that can be maintained for a sustained period of time (1 year or longer). Evidence Category A.

Rationale: The rationale for this initial goal is that even moderate weight loss, i.e., 10 percent of initial body weight, can significantly decrease the severity of obesity-associated risk factors. It can also set the stage for further weight loss, if indicated. Available evidence indicates that an average weight loss of 8 percent can be achieved in 6 months; however, since the observed average 8 percent includes people who do not lose weight, an individual goal of 10 percent is reasonable. This degree of weight loss can be achieved and is realistic, and moderate weight loss can be maintained over time. It is better to maintain a moderate weight loss over a prolonged period than to regain from a marked weight loss. The latter is counterproductive in terms of time, costs, and self-esteem. Patients generally will wish to lose more weight than 10 percent, and will need to be counseled and persuaded of the appropriateness of this initial goal (553, 554).  Further weight loss can be considered after this initial goal is achieved and maintained for 6 months.

Recommendation: The initial goal of weight loss therapy should be to reduce body weight by approximatety 10 percent from baseline. With success, further weight loss can be attempted, if indicated through further assessment. Evidence Category A.

Rate of Weight Loss

A reasonable time line for weight loss is to achieve a 10 percent reduction in body weight over 6 months of therapy. For overweight patients with BMIs in the typical range of 27 to 35, a decrease of 300 to 500 kcal/day will result in weight losses of about 1/2 to 1 lb/week and a 10 percent weight loss in 6 months. For more severely obese patients with BMIs greater than or equal to 35, deficits of up to 500 to 1,000 kcal/day will lead to weight losses of about 1 to 2 lb/week and a 10 percent weight loss in 6 months.


Evidence Statement: Weight loss at the rate of 1 to 2 lb/week (calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal/day) commonly occurs for up to 6 months, at which point weight loss begins to plateau unless a more restrictive regimen is implemented. Evidence Category B.

Rationale: To achieve significant weight loss, an energy deficit must be created and maintained. Weight can be lost at a rate of 1 to 2 lb/week with a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal/day. After 6 months, this caloric deficit theoretically should result in a loss of 26 to 52 lb. However, the average amount of weight lost actually observed over this time period usually is in the range of 20 to 25 lb. A greater rate of weight loss does not yield a better result at the end of 1 year (437).  It is difficult for most patients to continue to lose weight after a period of 6 months due to changes in resting metabolic rates and difficulty in adhering to treatment strategies, although some can do so. To continue to lose weight, diet and physical activity goals need to be revised to create an energy deficit at the lower weight, since energy requirements decrease as weight is decreased. To achieve additional weight loss, the patient must further decrease calories and/or increase physical activity. Many studies show that rapid weight reduction almost always is followed by regaining of weight. Moreover, with rapid weight reduction, there is an increased risk for gallstones and, possibly, electrolyte abnormalities.

Recommendation: Weight loss should be about 1 to 2 lb/week for a period of 6 months with the subsequent strategy based on the amount of weight lost. Evidence Category B.
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