1% Weight Increase each year

Take Home Action?

  • Under 40 – most are overweight, but you still keep on slowly but surely over 40 – you become obese.
  • It is what you eat. Not your resolution for diets, exercise.
  • Unless you make a change in food intake, you will put on about 1% of your weight each year. If you do, you will lose that weight.
  • Cut out carbohydrates, starting with added sugar.

Science Behind the Numbers

It matters, of course, how many total calories you take in each day, but Lustig says the age-old advice simply to “eat less and exercise more” is naïve. To control weight over the long term — adults gain about 0.5kg (1lb) a year on average — studies show that people benefit more by focusing on eating right, rather than less.

Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health says “Findings underscore the importance of making wise food choices in preventing weight gain and obesity. The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked.”

Ever wondered why you got the “middle age spread”. How you were svelte and trim at mid twenties and by the age of 50 your trousers now looked like a blimp? Large epidemiological studies (120,000 to 300,000 people) from both USA and Europe UK show that weight goes on slowly.

In the US, Mozaffarian (a) was the lead author examining the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They looked at lifestyle factors and weight gain every four years over 12 to 20 years. The review included 120,877 U.S. women and men who at the start of the studies weren’t obese and were free of chronic diseases. Sun and others used this same group looking at diabetes and fruit. Outcomes include (over the 4 years):

  • Overall.  Most gained 1.5kg (3.35lb). Only a few (5%) lost weight. Over the 20 years, they increased by 7.7kg (17.7lb) – a 0.6% increase every year.
  • Diabetes: 6.5% of this group got Type 2 diabetes. Replacing fruit juice with blueberries reduced type-2 diabetes by 33%;  grapes and raisins (19%), apples and pears (13%)  and any combination of whole fruit by 7%.
  • Foods adding weight. Crisps 0.8kg (1.69lb), potatoes 0.6kg (1.28lb), sugar-sweetened beverages 0.45kg (1lb), unprocessed red meats 0.4kg (1lb), processed meats 0.4 (1lb), deserts and sweets 0.2 (0.5lb)
  • The worst food: French fries 1.5kg (3.35lb)
  • Foods losing weight. Vegetables 0.1kg (0.22lb), whole grains 0.2kg (0.37lb), fruits 0.2kg (0.5lb), nuts 0.3kg (0.57lb), and yogurt 0.3kg (0.82lb).
  • Fruit: fruit juice increased weight, whole fruit
  • Exercise: if you increase physical activity you put on less weight. 0.8kg (1.76lb) than those who decrease activity.
  • Alcohol. an alcoholic drink a day 0.2 (0.41lb)
  • Sleeping: less than than six hours or more than eight hours a night put on weight
  • TV: watching an additional hour of television a day add 1.5kg (0.31lb). Encouraged snacking!
  • Smoking: new quitters gained 2.3kg (5.17lb) but repeat quitters 0.06k (0.14lb).

Note that this review was on “non-obese” predominantly white educated people. Other data shows less education = more obesity. This study was also based on self-reporting, so participants may underestimate their eating amounts.

So why would potatoes be particularly fattening? It’s not clear. Maybe because they’re generally eaten in large quantities, Mozaffarian says, or possibly because, as some previous research has shown, they are the type of food that causes big spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which tends to make people hungrier and overeat at their next meal.

Other researchers such as Nestle (NYU) says “It’s not that calories don’t count; indeed they do. But it’s a lot easier to control calories by eating healthfully and avoiding junk foods and sodas than it is to delude yourself into thinking you can count them accurately,”

Why replace fruit juice with whole fruit?  Researchers said this could be due high levels of anthocyanins, which have been shown to enhance glucose uptake in mice. The same fruits contain naturally-occurring polyphenols which are known to have beneficial effects.

So the answer is that we have correlation that both weight and type 2 diabetes risk is clear. Wrong foods, more weight, more type 2 diabetes. But these epidemiological studies do not show the cause of these responses.


a)      Mozaffarian, D. et al (2011) Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. J Med 2011; 364:2392-2404 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1014296

b)      Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Després JP, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2010 Mar 23;121(11):1356-64.

c)       Ostrow, N (2011) Potato Chips Cited as Culprit in U.S. Weight Gain. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-22/potato-chips-add-pounds-while-yogurt-slims-harvard-study-finds.html

Muraki, I. (2013) Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies  BMJ 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5001

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