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Benefits of weight loss

Obesity health risks: How does losing weight help?

Research shows that having a higher body fat percentage is associated with obesity health risks and a lower quality of life. Thankfully, even losing a modest amount of weight can mean immediate benefits to your health. Here, we’ve broken down the benefits you may see when you lose 5%, 10%, or 15% or more of your body weight.

11 min. read

Manage weight to improve your obesity health risks

Many obesity treatment options help you manage weight and maintain a lower weight as part of a healthier lifestyle. Whatever your approach, being a certain weight doesn't have to be your only goal. You can also set goals around how you'd like to feel, or what you'd like to be able to do. After all, losing weight can improve your health and help with a broad range of obesity-related diseases.

In this video, medical experts talk about the benefits of weight loss.
 

But how much weight do you need to lose before you can reap these benefits? The amount of weight you're advised to lose depends on your unique health concerns. But, the medical consensus is that health benefits begin when you lose around 5% of your initial body weight. Losing 10-15% or more of your body weight is associated with even more improvements. The health benefits continue the more weight you lose. Expand the accordions below to learn about the benefits that come with each percentage of weight loss.

Improvements to obesity health risks with 5% weight loss

Even losing a small fraction of your weight can be beneficial for your body. To put this number into perspective, if you weigh 100 kg you only need to lose 5 kg to weigh 5% less. These are some of the benefits you can expect when you lose up to 5% of your body weight.

Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is an obesity complication. Losing up to 5% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Through a lifestyle change program recognised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who lost around 7% of their weight reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58%.

Ease osteoarthritis of the knee

Osteoarthritis is an obesity complication. Research shows that lowering Body Mass Index (BMI) with an average of 5.1 kg weight loss in people living with overweight or obesity lowers the risk of developing osteoarthritis by over 50%. 

For people over 60 years old who live with overweight or obesity, an average weight loss of 5.7% eased osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants had less knee pain, better mobility, and better overall knee function. In addition, the participants felt less discomfort from osteoarthritis symptoms as they lost more weight.

Improve heart health and cardiovascular disease risk factors

Cardiovascular disease is an obesity complication. Living with overweight or obesity can lead to many serious health conditions and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and vascular diseases. Factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels can contribute to heart disease. And so, it's recommended that you manage weight to help lower cardiovascular risk factors.

Data shows that losing 5-10% of initial body weight results in significant improvement in hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol. It's important to note that maintaining weight loss has the same impact on people, regardless of their baseline BMI category. Improvements in cardiovascular risk factors continue the more weight is lost.

Lower chronic inflammation

There are obesity health risks related to your immune system. Obesity is associated with activating your immune system and chronic low-grade inflammation. It can also have a negative effect on your immunity from infection and the progression of chronic disease. 

It's been found that losing weight can lead to fewer pro-inflammatory markers called cytokines in the blood for people living with overweight or obesity. This can play an important role in preventing chronic diseases.

Fewer cancer risk factors

Research has shown that there is a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer among post-menopausal women taking hormone therapy.

In a clinical trial of post-menopausal women living with overweight or obesity, a weight loss of at least 5% lowered serum concentrations of estrogens and other potential breast cancer biomarkers. This study suggests that a modest degree of weight loss could have a notable effect on breast cancer risk.

A separate study was done with post-menopausal women living with overweight or obesity. It found that participants who lost 5% or more of their body weight lowered their levels of inflammatory biomarkers, with potential clinical significance for reducing their risk of cancer.

Longer and better sleep

Carrying excess weight can affect the quality of your sleep. In research performed by John Hopkins University, people living with overweight or obesity noted sleep-related problems such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Restless sleep
  • Use of sedatives to aid sleep.

The study found that losing body fat, especially fat around the stomach, was critical to improving sleep quality.

In a study by the University of Pennsylvania, adults living with overweight or obesity who lost 5% or more of their initial body weight had longer, better sleep within 6 months. Those who initially reported mild or greater symptoms of depression also improved their overall mood over a short- and long-term period.

See this article for our tips on getting longer, better sleep.

Improve polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms

Obesity has been shown to disrupt fertility in women through various biological pathways.

One study reported that PCOS patients living with obesity improved their menstrual cycles, ovulation, and fertility after following a low-calorie diet. During this study, participants who lost at least 5% of their body weight conceived spontaneously. The authors concluded that losing weight was an effective approach for PCOS patients who were infertile and overweight.

In a separate study, 80% of women living with obesity and PCOS who lost over 5% of their weight through a low glycemic diet experienced clinically significant improvements in their reproductive function.

Ease rheumatoid arthritis

Having excess fat tissue creates inflammatory mediators that affect your joint tissues. This can lead to more inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Living with obesity also lowers the likelihood of achieving sustained remission (no RA symptoms or having symptoms under control) in response to antirheumatic drug treatment by 47%. 

In a retrospective study, researchers analysed data from RA patients over several years. 67% of the participants were living with overweight or obesity. Losing 5 kg or more was associated with significant improvements in RA, such as joint tenderness, pain, and function. The researchers noted that participants benefitted when they lost any amount of weight. However, participants experienced more positive effects in joint tenderness, pain, and function the more weight they lost.

Improve non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) signs

Losing weight has been noted to improve NASH signs and losing 5% body weight gives positive results.

During a 52-week study, NASH patients who lost weight experienced notable health improvements, such as:

  • reduction of fat in the liver
  • resolution of steatohepatitis (25%)
  • lower non-alcoholic fatty liver disease activity scores (47%)
  • regression of fibrosis (19%)

The greatest benefits were observed in patients who lost 10% or more of their body weight, like:

  • the highest rates of NASH reduction
  • NASH resolution (90%)
  • fibrosis regression

How does losing weight improve your health?

See how losing 13% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing certain obesity-related complications.

Improvements to obesity health risks with 10% weight loss

In a recent study of people living with overweight or obesity in the UK, people in the weight loss group had a median weight loss of 13% and experienced improvements to their obesity health risks. For example, there was a reduction of: 

  • type 2 diabetes (41%) 
  • sleep apnoea (40%)
  • hypertension 22%
  • dyslipidemia (19%)
  • asthma (18%)

These are some of the benefits you can expect when you lose 10% or more of your body weight.

 

Lower blood pressure

A study found that participants who lost 10–15% of their initial body weight had clinically significant improvements in their blood pressure.

Participants living with overweight or obesity with type 2 diabetes experienced an average decrease of 9 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure. They also benefited from significant improvements in other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials showed that a 1 kg loss in body weight was associated with an approximate 1mmHg reduction in blood pressure. This emphasizes the importance of weight loss in preventing and treating hypertension.

Improve lipid parameters

Losing 15% or less of your body weight helps lower concentrations of “bad” LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels.

In a meta-analysis of more than 70 randomized-controlled trials, losing weight through lifestyle, pharmacologic, and/or surgical interventions was associated with statistically significant changes in serum lipids.

Improve heart health

Losing over 5% of your body weight can improve your heart health by lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

In a study of adults living with overweight or obesity, the amount of weight lost was related to how much risk factors improved. Participants who lost over 10% of their weight had significantly greater improvements in glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol than patients who lost less weight.

Improve gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms

GERD symptoms improved in men who lost 10% or more of their body weight and women who lost 5-10% of their body weight.

Because 37% of people living with overweight or obesity have GERD symptoms, researchers noted that losing weight could help the majority of participants resolve their symptoms.

Less joint pain in knee osteoarthritis

In a study of people living with obesity with knee osteoarthritis (OA), losing an average of 13.5% of body weight resulted in notable benefits, including:

  • 7% lower force on the knee joint during activity (knee joint loading)
  • 13% lower load on the knee when you take a step (axial impulse)
  • 12% reduction in the internal knee abductor moment (KAM)

Patients experienced improvements in their overall movement and less pain when they're active. Researchers, therefore, suggested that weight loss proved valuable for patients with knee OA and obesity.

In a randomized clinical trial on the effects of a rapid weight loss diet on people with knee OA, researchers found that losing 10% of body weight improved physical function by 28%.

Lower cancer-related risks

Developing certain cancers (including colorectal, pancreatic, kidney, ovarian and post-menopausal breast cancer) has been linked to having excess fat and is an obesity health risk.

A study with post-menopausal women found that losing more than 9 kg of initial body weight lowered the risk for certain cancers (such as breast, endometrial, and colon). These participants were 11% less likely to develop cancer compared to those who didn't lose the same weight.

Increase in sexual satisfaction

Higher BMI is linked to impairments in sexual quality of life, especially in women and candidates for gastric bypass surgery. People living with obesity reported significant improvements in their sexual quality of life when they lost an average of 13% of their body weight. They reported feeling more attractive and having a stronger sex drive. Most of the improvement was seen in the first three months after the participants lost an average of 11.8% of their body weight.

One study was conducted on erectile function in men living with overweight or obesity and type 2 diabetes. Participants undergoing weight loss treatment lost an average of 9.9% of their body weight. A higher percentage of these participants maintained or improved their erectile function during the study.

Another study was conducted on women living with obesity and type 2 diabetes. They reported that intensive lifestyle intervention with a weight loss of around 7.6 kg improved their sexual function.

Fewer post-menopause symptoms

Researchers studied post-menopausal women participating in a nutritional program designed to lower dietary fat and increase fruit, vegetable, and fibre intake. Women who lost at least 10% of their weight were more likely to have fewer or no menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats over one year. The researchers noted that weight loss and a healthy lifestyle appear to be a good alternative approach to hormone therapy for relieving post-menopausal symptoms.

Reduce risk of sleep apnoea

Weight loss is often recommended as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a potentially serious condition that causes occasional stops in breathing during sleep.

Researchers followed people with OSA and type 2 diabetes and found that the severity of OSA was reduced after weight loss. Participants who lost 10 kg or more (approximately 10% of the average body weight of participants) experienced the greatest reduction in OSA symptoms. They concluded that changes in body weight led to improvement in OSA severity.

Another study found that a 10% weight loss was effective in managing participants sleep-disordered breathing, leading to a more restful night’s sleep.

Reduce episodes of urinary incontinence

Weight loss can lead to fewer episodes of urinary incontinence.

Women living with overweight or obesity and who had urinary incontinence showed notable improvements after a 6-month weight loss programme including diet and exercise. With an average weight loss of 8% of body weight, participants had 47% fewer urinary incontinence episodes. This was compared to 28% of participants who did not manage weight. Overall, more women in the weight loss group reported clinically significant outcomes. In some cases, the number of incontinence, stress incontinence, and urge incontinence episodes was reduced by 70%. The researchers concluded that reducing urinary incontinence could potentially be a benefit of moderate weight loss.

Improve memory

Being overweight has been negatively linked with cognitive functions. Similarly, living with obesity in mid-life has been linked with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

When overweight post-menopausal women were put on a diet for 6 months, losing an average of 9.2% of their body weight, researchers observed significant improvements in their episodic memory.

Improvements to obesity health risks with 15% or more weight loss

Maintaining weight loss requires a commitment to new habits and patterns of behaviour. But, the improvements to obesity health risks and other benefits can be big and consistent for those who can make big, consistent lifestyle changes. These are some of the benefits you can expect when you lose 15% or more of your body weight.
 

Better immune system

A 5-10% weight loss can lead to fewer inflammation-causing immune cells and further loss leads to even bigger improvements.

A clinical trial investigated the effects of weight loss on immune cells in people with a BMI over 35 kg/m2 and who had type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Participants lost an average of 13.5% of their body weight and improved their anti-inflammatory immune balance.

Post-menopausal women living with overweight or obesity who lost more than 15% of their body weight improved their immune system. They found that their vitamin D levels tripled during the study, regardless of their diet. Vitamin D helps with reducing inflammation and influencing cell growth and immune function.

Reduce mortality

In a study by the Institute of Medicine at Gothenburg University, researchers observed adults living with obesity over an average period of 10.9 years. Participants lost an average of 18.3% of their body weight from surgical treatment. This led to 24% less mortality over the study period.

Fewer sugar cravings

A study found that people with overweight have more frequent cravings for high-calorie and appetizing foods during the day. This led to people eating more food, such as hamburgers, pizza, and candy, especially outside of meals.

A separate study in women living with overweight or obesity showed similar findings. However, participants were exposed to cognitive behavioral therapy and lost an average of 14.6% of their body weight. After therapy, the women noted they had less preference for sugary foods, leading to a more normal response to which food they found appetizing.

Learn about why we crave sugar and other unhealthy food here.

Lower risk of chronic diseases

While risk factors for certain chronic diseases improve with modest weight loss, there are further benefits to be gained. Health factors such as blood pressure and lipid concentrations in the blood have a linear relationship with weight loss.

Losing more weight can improve health markers related to chronic diseases. It lowers risk factors for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Losing 10-15% of your body weight increases your likelihood of relieving symptoms of conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

Final thoughts

There isn't an instant fix to losing weight. As you try to manage weight, embrace patience and a long-term mindset. Health isn't just about a number on a scale. You may experience improvements in your quality of life connected to lowering your obesity health risks.

Many of the health benefits from weight loss are gradual and develop over time. Health is a long-term lifestyle, not a sprint to the finish. The path to a healthier lifestyle can be hard to navigate, but remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Embracing small changes now can have a huge effect on your future.

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