Here we go again. A study is published and the media takes its message out of context with headlines like, “Weight Loss No Help for Diabetic Heart” and “Weight Loss No Help for Diabetes Risks.” Oh, please.
A large National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study of weight loss in overweight and obese adults with type 2 diabetes recently halted their intervention after researchers found no harm—but no cardiovascular benefits—to the participants. The study involved over 5,000 people, half of whom received an intensive lifestyle intervention while the other half underwent a general program of diabetes support and education.
The people in the study were followed for up to 11 years, and while moderate weight loss—more than 8 percent loss of their initial body weight after one year of intervention and nearly 5 percent maintained weight loss after four years—was not found to reduce heart-related events (such as heart attack or stroke), it was found to decrease sleep apnea, reduce the need for diabetes medications, help maintain physical mobility, and improve quality of life. Those are important outcomes, especially the reduction of medication.
Although the lifestyle intervention of the study was stopped, the researchers plan to continue following the participants over a longer time period to identify long-term effects of the intervention. One possible explanation for not finding a cardiovascular benefit in the lifestyle intervention group is that people in both groups had a low number of cardiovascular events when compared to previous studies of people with diabetes. When you compare one group to the other, it looks like nothing happened. I wonder what they would have found if the participants had lost even more weight.
In the end, healthy diet and exercise are two of the most important factors to address when dealing with either type 2 diabetes or heart disease. According to NIH’s Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), “Beyond cardiovascular disease, this study and others have shown many other health benefits on weight loss through improved diet and increased physical activity. For example, for overweight and obese adults at high risk for diabetes, modest weight loss has been shown to prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes.”