Intentional weight loss and death in overweight and obese U.S. adults 35 years of age and older

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Mar 4;138(5):383-9. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-138-5-200303040-00007.


Background: Although weight loss improves risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease, it is unclear whether intentional weight loss reduces mortality rates.

Objective: To examine the relationships among intention to lose weight, weight loss, and all-cause mortality.

Design: Prospective cohort study using a probability sample of the U.S. population.

Setting: Interviewer-administered survey.

Participants: 6391 overweight and obese persons (body mass index > or = 25 kg/m2) who were at least 35 years of age.

Measurements: Intention to lose weight and weight change during the past year were assessed by self-report in 1989. Vital status was followed for 9 years. Hazard rate ratios (HRRs) were adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, education, smoking, health status, health care utilization, and initial body mass index.

Results: Compared with persons not trying to lose weight and reporting no weight change, those reporting intentional weight loss had a 24% lower mortality rate (HRR, 0.76 [95% CI, 0.60 to 0.97]) and those with unintentional weight loss had a 31% higher mortality rate (HRR, 1.31 [CI, 1.01 to 1.70]). However, mortality rates were lower in persons who reported trying to lose weight than those in not trying to lose weight, independent of actual weight change. Compared with persons not trying to lose weight and reporting no weight change, persons trying to lose weight had the following HRRs: no weight change, 0.80 (CI, 0.65 to 0.99); gained weight, 0.94 (CI, 0.65 to 1.37); and lost weight, 0.76 (CI, 0.60 to 0.97).

Conclusions: Attempted weight loss is associated with lower all-cause mortality, independent of weight change. Self-reported intentional weight loss is associated with lower mortality rates, and weight loss is associated with higher mortality rates only if it is unintentional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mortality*
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Loss*