Obesity in primary care: evidence for advising weight constancy rather than weight loss in unsuccessful dieters

Br J Gen Pract. 2008 Feb;58(547):112-7. doi: 10.3399/bjgp08X277023.


In view of the limited success rates of all weight-loss strategies to date, this article hypothesises that in situations where previous dieting attempts have failed, better outcomes and health improvements will arise from advocating weight-stability goals. This means the promotion of weight maintenance (to ensure any reduction in weight is maintained) and weight constancy (where steps are taken to maintain existing weight without attempting weight loss), rather than advocating existing 5-10% weight-loss targets for these patients. The majority of approaches to obesity focus on weight reduction despite poor evidence of effectiveness. Primary care remains reluctant to engage in ineffective approaches, yet is well placed to give advice, and would undoubtedly adopt effective obesity-management approaches if they were developed. Despite guidance for overweight or obese people to aim for a 5-10% weight reduction, current trends demonstrate escalation of average weights and obesity. A literature review found little information about evaluation of weight-stability approaches (either weight maintenance or weight constancy), despite theoretical support for them. Yet taking steps to protect weight reduction where it is achieved, and to promote weight constancy (without weight loss) where further dieting is predicted to fail, would have a beneficial effect on preventing further growth of obesity-related morbidity in the population. Some evidence exists to support simple behavioural approaches to improve weight stability, but these measures do not feature in current advice and hence are not widely advocated.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Child
  • Exercise
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Weight Loss*