Short-term variability in body weight predicts long-term weight gain

Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov;102(5):995-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115402. Epub 2015 Sep 9.


Background: Body weight in lower animals and humans is highly stable despite a very large flux in energy intake and expenditure over time. Conversely, the existence of higher-than-average variability in weight may indicate a disruption in the mechanisms responsible for homeostatic weight regulation.

Objective: In a sample chosen for weight-gain proneness, we evaluated whether weight variability over a 6-mo period predicted subsequent weight change from 6 to 24 mo.

Design: A total of 171 nonobese women were recruited to participate in this longitudinal study in which weight was measured 4 times over 24 mo. The initial 3 weights were used to calculate weight variability with the use of a root mean square error approach to assess fluctuations in weight independent of trajectory. Linear regression analysis was used to examine whether weight variability in the initial 6 mo predicted weight change 18 mo later.

Results: Greater weight variability significantly predicted amount of weight gained. This result was unchanged after control for baseline body mass index (BMI) and BMI change from baseline to 6 mo and for measures of disinhibition, restrained eating, and dieting.

Conclusions: Elevated weight variability in young women may signal the degradation of body weight regulatory systems. In an obesogenic environment this may eventuate in accelerated weight gain, particularly in those with a genetic susceptibility toward overweight. Future research is needed to evaluate the reliability of weight variability as a predictor of future weight gain and the sources of its predictive effect. The trial on which this study is based is registered at as NCT00456131.

Keywords: body weight; set point; weight fluctuations; weight gain; weight variability.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Models, Biological*
  • Overweight / diet therapy
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Philadelphia / epidemiology
  • Recurrence
  • Risk
  • Students
  • Time Factors
  • Universities
  • Weight Gain
  • Young Adult

Associated data