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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Consumer Research on Weight Loss Practices

Below are research abstracts of consumer research studies conducted or supported by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Information Sources of U.S. Adults Trying to Lose weight.
1995. Alan W. Heaton and Alan S. Levy. Journal of Nutrition Education 27:182-190.

This study attempted to determine whether dieters differ from nondieters in how and where they obtain nutrition and health information and whether choice of weight-loss practices is related to use of different information sources. A national telephone survey of a probability sample of 1649 adults provided detailed information on the weight-loss practices of 1431 dieters and comparable background information on 218 nondieters. Dieters were more active readers of nutrition information than were nondieters. However, their choices about type of regimen and about specific products and services were more heavily dependent on word of mouth, commercial sources, and physicians than on written information. Dieters relying on written materials were more likely to engage in healthy weight-loss regimens and less likely to engage in questionable weight-loss practices than were those relying on other sources. The pattern of information-seeking behavior observed for dieters, which indicated greater motivation to seek out written information but reliance on oral sources to inform them of specific weight-loss practices, suggests that if authoritative written information about specific weight-loss practices was available, it would be used and would likely be effective.

Weight Loss, Attempts in Adults: Goals, Duration, and Rate of Weight Loss.
1992. David F. Williamson, Mary K. Serdula, Robert F. Anda, Alan Levy, and Tim Byers. American Journal of Public Health 82(9):1251-1257.

Objectives: Although attempted weight loss is common, little is known about the goals and durations of weight loss attempts and the rates of achieved weight loss in the general population.

Methods: Data were collected by telephone in 1989 from adults aged 18 years and older in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Analyses were carried out separately for the 6758 men and 14,915 women who reported currently trying to lose weight.

Results: Approximately 25% of the men respondents and 40% of the women respondents reported that they were currently trying to lose weight. Among men, a higher percentage of Hispanics (31%) than of Whites (25%) or Blacks (23%) reported trying to lose weight. Among women, however, there were no ethnic differences in prevalence. The average man wanted to lose 30 pounds and to weigh 178 pounds; the average woman wanted to lose 31 pounds and to weigh 133 pounds. Black women wanted to lose an average of 8 pounds more than did White women, but Black women's goal weight was 10 pounds heavier. The average rate of achieved weight loss was 1.4 pounds per week for men and 1.1 pounds per week for women; these averages, however, may reflect only the experience of those most successful at losing weight.

Conclusions: Attempted weight loss is a common behavior, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, and weight loss goals are substantial; however, obesity remains a major public health problem in the United States.

Weight Control Practices of U.S. Adults Trying To Lose Weight.
1993. Alan S. Levy and Alan W. Heaton. Annals of Internal Medicine. 119(7 pt. 2):661-666.

Objective: To estimate the relative prevalence of different types and combinations of practices among weight-loss practitioners and to describe the relations between individual characteristics and various features of weight-loss regimens.

Design: A telephone survey of a random digit-dialed probability sample of adults in the continental United States who reported that they were trying to lose weight.

Participants: A total of 1431 persons 18 years or older who were attempting to lose weight. Measurements: Self-reports of a detailed inventory of more than 35 specific practices that might be used as part of a voluntary weight-loss plan, along with information about individual characteristics such as current weight, weight-loss history, demographic profile, motivations to lose weight, sources of information, and knowledge about diet and health.

Results: The average respondent had a current weight-loss attempt lasting from 5 to 6 months, had tried a similar plan before, and had averaged one attempt a year for the past 2 years. Seventy-one percent of women and 62% of men reported that they were both changing their diet and exercising more as a part of a current weight-loss attempt. Frequently reported weight-loss practices included weighing oneself regularly (71% and 70% for women and men, respectively), walking (58% and 44%), using diet soft drinks (52% and 45%), taking vitamins and minerals (33% and 26%), counting calories (25% and 17%), skipping meals (21% and 20%), using commercial meal replacements, (15% and 13%), taking diet pills (14% and 7%), and participating in organized weight-loss programs (13%) and 5%). Sex, education, and overweight status influenced the choice of a weight-loss practice.

Conclusions: Individual approaches to weight-loss vary and are characterized by their duration and by their recurrent nature. Policy efforts should be directed toward increasing the long-term effectiveness of individual weight-loss plans.

Contact Linda.Verrill@fda.hhs.gov for more information about the above studies.