Narrative review of yoga intervention clinical trials including weight-related outcomes

Altern Ther Health Med. 2013 May-Jun;19(3):32-46.


Context: Medical authorities have identified obesity as a causal factor in the development of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and more broadly, of metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance syndrome. To provide solutions that can modify this risk factor, researchers need to identify methods of effective risk reduction and primary prevention of obesity. Research on the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for obesity is limited, and studies vary in overall quality and methodological rigor.

Objective: This narrative review assessed the quantity and quality of clinical trials of yoga as an intervention for weight loss or as a means of risk reduction or treatment for obesity and diseases in which obesity is a causal factor. This review summarized the studies' research designs and evaluated the efficacy of yoga for weight loss via the current evidence base.

Design: The research team evaluated published studies to determine the appropriateness of research designs, comparability of programs' intervention elements, and standardization of outcome measures. The research team's literature search used the key terms yoga and obesity or yoga and weight loss in three primary medical-literature databases (PubMed, PsychInfo, and Web of Science). The study excluded clinical trials with no quantitative obesity related measure. Extracted data included each study's (1) design; (2) setting and population; (3) nature, duration, and frequency of interventions; (4) comparison groups; (5) recruitment strategies; (6) outcome measures; (7) data analysis and presentation; and (8) results and conclusions. The research team developed an overall evaluation parameter to compare disparate trials.

Outcome measures: The research team reviewed each study to determine its key features, each worth a specified number of points, with a maximum total of 20 points. The features included a study's (1) duration, (2) frequency of yoga practice, (3) intensity of (length of) each practice, (4) number of yogic elements, (5) inclusion of dietary modification, (6) inclusion of a residential component, (7) the number of weight-related outcome measures, and (8) a discussion of the details of the yogic elements.

Results: Overall, therapeutic yoga programs are frequently effective in promoting weight loss and/or improvements in body composition. The effectiveness of yoga for weight loss is related to the following key features: (1) an increased frequency of practice; (2) a longer intervention duration (3) a yogic dietary component; (4) a residential component; (5) the comprehensive inclusion of yogic components; (5) and a home-practice component.

Conclusions: Yoga appears to be an appropriate and potentially successful intervention for weight maintenance, prevention of obesity, and risk reduction for diseases in which obesity plays a significant causal role.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Diet
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Exercise*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Research Design
  • Weight Loss
  • Yoga*