New Study: How Do People with Obesity Lose Weight and Keep it Off?

Written by Melissa Riegel, BA, and Loren Gianini, PhD. 

If you’ve read any health-related news story in the past 10 years you know that obesity has been a growing problem in the United States, with over a third of adults, or 78.6 million people, now considered to be obese. Obesity is linked to many dangerous health conditions, like type 2 diabetes mellitus, certain types of cancer, and heart disease, and weight loss can help reduce risk for these medical issues. Unfortunately, while many people are able to lose weight, almost everyone who diets gains the weight back, and then some.

Among the millions of people in the U.S. who lose weight, there is a small subset of people who are able to maintain that weight loss in the long-term. Who are these people and how do they do it?

Researchers at Brown University and the University of Colorado founded the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) over 20 years ago to start answering these important questions. The NWCR is made up of adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. People on the registry have provided researchers with invaluable information about their eating and exercise habits, and as a result we know that many of these successful weight loss maintainers limit their intake of high fat foods, reduce the variety in their diets, eat regular meals, monitor their weight at regular intervals and often routinely exercise as well.

While we’ve learned quite a bit about the behaviors of people who’ve lost weight and kept it off, we still don’t know too much about what is happening in their brains. Determining brain activity patterns can point researchers in the direction of developing new, more effective treatments.

To this end, we have recently launched a new study on the cognitive neuroscience of weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Using concepts from previous studies at Columbia, we are looking at both the eating behavior and brain activity of those who have kept their weight down for at least 1 year. This study will hopefully help us understand what factors might be related to long-term weight loss success. We are recruiting three participant groups: long-term weight loss maintainers, dieters, and non-dieters. Study participants play two food-choice games, have an fMRI brain scan, and eat lunch in our eating laboratory. Participants are compensated for their time and scientific contribution.

If you or someone you know might be interested in this study, please call our main clinic line (646-774-8066) to learn more about it!

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