Examining differences between overweight women and men in 12-month weight loss study comparing healthy low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat diets

Int J Obes (Lond). 2021 Jan;45(1):225-234. doi: 10.1038/s41366-020-00708-y. Epub 2020 Nov 14.


Background/objectives: Biological sex factors and sociocultural gender norms affect the physiology and behavior of weight loss. However, most diet intervention studies do not report outcomes by sex, thereby impeding reproducibility. The objectives of this study were to compare 12-month changes in body weight and composition in groups defined by diet and sex, and adherence to a healthy low carbohydrate (HLC) vs. healthy low fat (HLF) diet.

Participants/methods: This was a secondary analysis of the DIETFITS trial, in which 609 overweight/obese nondiabetic participants (age, 18-50 years) were randomized to a 12-month HLC (n = 304) or HLF (n = 305) diet. Our first aim concerned comparisons in 12-month changes in weight, fat mass, and lean mass by group with appropriate adjustment for potential confounders. The second aim was to assess whether or not adherence differed by diet-sex group (HLC women n = 179, HLC men n = 125, HLF women n = 167, HLF men n = 138).

Results: 12-month changes in weight (p < 0.001) were different by group. HLC produced significantly greater weight loss, as well as greater loss of both fat mass and lean mass, than HLF among men [-2.98 kg (-4.47, -1.50); P < 0.001], but not among women. Men were more adherent to HLC than women (p = 0.02). Weight loss estimates within group remained similar after adjusting for adherence, suggesting adherence was not a mediator.

Conclusions: By reporting outcomes by sex significant weight loss differences were identified between HLC and HLF, which were not recognized in the original primary analysis. These findings highlight the need to consider sex in the design, analysis, and reporting of diet trials.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Overweight / diet therapy*
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Patient Compliance
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss / physiology*
  • Young Adult