Association of Sex or Race With the Effect of Weight Loss on Physical Function: A Secondary Analysis of 8 Randomized Clinical Trials

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Aug 3;3(8):e2014631. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.14631.


Importance: Consideration of differential treatment effects among subgroups in clinical trial research is a topic of increasing interest. This is an especially salient issue for weight loss trials.

Objective: To determine whether stratification by sex and race is associated with meaningful differences in physical function response to weight loss among older adults.

Design, setting, and participants: This pooled analysis used individual-level data from 8 completed randomized clinical trials of weight loss conducted at Wake Forest University or Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Data were housed within the Wake Forest Older Americans Independence Center data repository and provided complete exposure, outcome, and covariate information. Data were collected from November 1996 to March 30, 2017, and analyzed from August 15, 2019, to June 10, 2020.

Exposures: Treatment arms within each study were collapsed into caloric restriction (CR [n = 734]) and non-CR (n = 583) categories based on whether caloric restriction was specified in the original study protocol.

Main outcomes and measures: Objectively measured 6-month change in weight, fast-paced gait speed (meters per second), and Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) score.

Results: A total of 1317 adults (mean [SD] age, 67.7 [5.4] years; 920 [69.9%] female; 275 [20.9%] Black) with overweight or obesity (mean [SD] body mass index [calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared], 33.9 [4.4]) were included at baseline. Six-month weight change achieved among those randomized to CR was -7.7% (95% CI, -8.3% to -7.2%), with no difference noted by sex; however, White individuals lost more weight than Black individuals assigned to CR (-9.0% [95% CI, -9.6% to -8.4%] vs -6.0% [95% CI, -6.9% to 5.2%]; P < .001), and all CR groups lost a significantly greater amount from baseline compared with non-CR groups (Black participants in CR vs non-CR groups, -5.3% [95% CI, -6.4% to -4.1%; P < .001]; White participants in CR vs non-CR groups, -7.2% [95% CI, -7.8% to -6.6%; P < .001]). Women experienced greater weight loss-associated improvement in SPPB score (CR group, 0.35 [95% CI, 0.18-0.52]; non-CR group, 0.08 [95% CI, -0.11 to 0.27]) compared with men (CR group, 0.23 [95% CI, 0.00-0.46]; non-CR group, 0.34 [95% CI, 0.09-0.58]; P = .03). Black participants experienced greater weight loss-associated improvement in gait speed (CR group, 0.08 [95% CI, 0.05-0.10] m/s; non-CR group, 0.02 [95% CI, -0.01 to 0.05] m/s) compared with White participants (CR group, 0.07 [95% CI, 0.06-0.09] m/s; non-CR group, 0.06 [95% CI, 0.04-0.08] m/s; P = .02).

Conclusions and relevance: The association of weight loss on physical function in older adults appears to differ by sex and race. These findings affirm the need to consider biological variables in clinical trial design.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Functional Performance
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Walk Test
  • Walking / physiology
  • Weight Loss / physiology*