How many times have you heard people say,” I can eat anything as much as I like and not gain a pound” or “Even if I look at food I gain weight!” Well researchers at the National Institutes of Health have turned these beliefs, for the first time in a lab, into fact. Study results were published May 11 in Diabetes.
Researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch (PECRB), part of the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, studied men and women with obesity. ”Using a whole-room indirect calorimeter – which allows energy expenditure to be calculated based on air samples – researchers took baseline measurements of the participants’ energy expenditure in response to a day of fasting, followed by a six-week inpatient phase of 50 percent calorie reduction.” The researchers found that those who lost the least had the greatest decrease in metabolism during fasting. The people who lost the most had a metabolism that decreased the least. The first group is viewed as having a “thrifty” metabolism the second group a “spendthrift” metabolism.
“When people who are obese decrease the amount of food they eat, metabolic responses vary greatly, with a ‘thrifty’ metabolism possibly contributing to less weight lost,” said Susanne Votruba, Ph.D., study author and PECRB clinical investigator. “While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology – and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay.”
Researchers still do not know whether the biological differences are inborn or develop over time. More study is needed to resolve whether a person’s responses to calorie deficit can be used to prevent weight gain.
“The results corroborate the idea that some people who are obese may have to work harder to lose weight due to metabolic differences,” said Martin Reinhardt, M.D., lead author and PECRB postdoctoral fellow. “But biology is not destiny. Balanced diet and regular physical activity over a long period can be very effective for weight loss.”
According to the NIH, more than one-third of American adults are obese. Complications from obesity can include heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
“What we’ve learned from this study may one day enable a more personalized approach to help people who are obese achieve a healthy weight,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D.
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