Weight loss is the primary recommendation for health improvement in individuals with high body mass index (BMI) despite limited evidence of long-term success. Alternatives to weight-loss approaches (such as Health At Every Size - a weight-neutral approach) have been met with their own concerns and require further empirical testing. This study compared the effectiveness of a weight-neutral versus a weight-loss program for health promotion. Eighty women, aged 30-45 years, with high body mass index (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m(2)) were randomized to 6 months of facilitator-guided weekly group meetings using structured manuals that emphasized either a weight-loss or weight-neutral approach to health. Health measurements occurred at baseline, post-intervention, and 24-months post-randomization. Measurements included blood pressure, lipid panels, blood glucose, BMI, weight, waist circumference, hip circumference, distress, self-esteem, quality of life, dietary risk, fruit and vegetable intake, intuitive eating, and physical activity. Intention-to-treat analyses were performed using linear mixed-effects models to examine group-by-time interaction effects and between and within-group differences. Group-by-time interactions were found for LDL cholesterol, intuitive eating, BMI, weight, and dietary risk. At post-intervention, the weight-neutral program had larger reductions in LDL cholesterol and greater improvements in intuitive eating; the weight-loss program had larger reductions in BMI, weight, and larger (albeit temporary) decreases in dietary risk. Significant positive changes were observed overall between baseline and 24-month follow-up for waist-to-hip ratio, total cholesterol, physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, self-esteem, and quality of life. These findings highlight that numerous health benefits, even in the absence of weight loss, are achievable and sustainable in the long term using a weight-neutral approach. The trial positions weight-neutral programs as a viable health promotion alternative to weight-loss programs for women of high weight.
Keywords: Health At Every Size; Health promotion; Intuitive eating; Obesity; Weight loss.
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