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How much weight should I lose to see health benefits?

The connection between excess weight and its effects on our health cannot be overstated.

Scientific research continues to show that having a higher body fat percentage is associated with risk factors for various health issues and lower quality of life.

However, studies show that for people with obesity, losing even a modest amount of their body weight results in substantial improvements in health.

Medically approved approaches to weight loss can not only help you lose weight but maintain a lower weight as part of a healthier lifestyle.

If excess weight affects your health, you can start the journey towards a healthier you today!

Weight loss for better health

Whilst the advisable amount of weight to lose is dependent on the unique health concerns of the individual, the medical consensus is that health benefits begin at a weight loss of around 5% of initial body weight and continue with additional weight loss. Losing ≥10-15% of initial body weight is associated with further improvements.

This article breaks down how much weight you’ll need to lose in order to see improvements in specific weight-related health conditions.

If you are concerned about any of the conditions mentioned throughout the article, consult your doctor for a medical evaluation and advice on what anti-obesity treatment options could be appropriate for you.

Health benefits from 5% weight loss

Even losing a small fraction of your total weight can be beneficial for your body. Whilst 5% may seem somewhat abstract, to put this number into perspective – if you weigh 100kg you only need to lose 5kg to weigh 5% less.

These are the expected benefits when losing up to 5% of your body weight:

Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Losing up to 5% of your total weight can lower your risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

Through a lifestyle change program recognized 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%.

Easing of osteoarthritis of the knee

Research has shown that in overweight and obese people, reducing Body Mass Index (BMI) by 2 units (an average 5.1kg weight loss) resulted in over 50% reduction in risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Equally, in overweight and obese adults aged over 60, an average weight loss of 5.7% resulted in eased knee pain, enhanced mobility, and overall improved function of the knee.

Furthermore, the discomfort associated with knee osteoarthritis symptoms continued to decrease as participants lost more weight.

Improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors

Being overweight or obese can lead to many serious health conditions and can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and vascular diseases.

Factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels can contribute to heart disease. Losing weight is therefore advised to help decrease cardiovascular risk factors.

Data shows that losing 5-10% of the initial body weight resulted in a significant improvement in hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol.

Notably, sustained weight loss had the same impact regardless of baseline BMI category (obese stage I, II, or III).

The positive results in improvement of cardiovascular risk factors continue with more weight loss.

Obesity-related chronic inflammation

Obesity is associated with immune activation and chronic low-grade inflammation. This can negatively impact chronic disease progression and immunity from infection.

A systematic literature review found that weight loss in obese and overweight people can lead to fewer pro-inflammatory markers called cytokines in the blood. This can play an important role in the prevention of chronic diseases.

Fewer cancer risk factors

Research has shown that amongst postmenopausal women prescribed hormone therapies, there is a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

However, in a clinical trial of overweight and obese postmenopausal women, a weight loss of at least 5% reduced 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 of overweight and obese post-menopausal women found that participants losing 5% or more of their body weight reduced their levels of inflammatory biomarkers, with potential clinical significance for cancer risk reduction.

Longer, better sleep

Excess weight can affect the quality of your sleep. In research performed by John Hopkins University, obese and overweight participants noted sleep-related problems such as:

  • Insomnia,
  • Daytime fatigue,
  • Sleepiness,
  • Restless sleep,
  • Or use of sedatives to aid sleep.

The study found that losing overall body fat, and in particular abdominal fat, was critical in improving sleep quality for participants regardless of demographic factors.

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

Interested in finding out your body weight classification?

Improvement of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms

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

One study reported that obese PCOS patients following a low-calorie diet showed improvements in menstrual cyclicity, ovulation, and fertility. During the course of the study, participants who lost at least 5% of their body weight experienced spontaneous pregnancy. The authors concluded that weight loss was an effective approach for infertile and overweight PCOS patients.

In a separate study, 80% of obese women with PCOS who lost >5% of their weight via reduced glycemic load diets experienced clinically significant improvements in reproductive function.

Easing rheumatoid arthritis

Excess fat tissue produces inflammatory mediators that affect joint tissues, which can lead to an increase in the inflammatory pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Being obese also negatively impacts the likelihood of achieving sustained remission by 47% in response to antirheumatic drug treatment.

In a retrospective study, researchers analysed data from RA patients over several years. The majority (67%) were overweight or obese. Clinically relevant weight loss (≥5kg) was associated with significant improvements in RA disease activity, such as joint tenderness, pain, and function.

Researchers in the study noted that losing any amount of weight benefited participants. A ‘dose-dependent’ relationship exists between weight loss and reduced disease activity, which sees positive effects in joint tenderness, pain, and function the more weight is lost.

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)

Weight loss has been noted to improve the histologic features of NASH, with a 5% reduction in body weight fielding positive results.

During a 52-week study, NASH patients who lost weight experienced notable health improvements. A quarter achieved resolution of steatohepatitis, 47% lessened their non-alcoholic fatty liver disease activity scores, and 19% saw a regression of fibrosis.

The greatest benefits were observed in patients who lost 10% or more of their body weight, including the highest rates of NASH reduction, NASH resolution, and fibrosis regression.

A 5% weight loss has also been noted to reduce fat in the liver. People who achieved ≥10% weight loss had the greatest reductions in NASH, fibrosis regression, and 90% even showed resolution of NASH.

Speaking to your doctor is a great first step to a healthier you

Health improvements from 10% weight loss

Whilst losing 5% of initial body weight can have significant effects on health, these benefits continue with subsequent weight loss. A recent study analysed data on over half a million adults with overweight or obesity in the UK.

Individuals in the weight-loss cohort had median 13% weight loss. Assuming a BMI of 40 kg/m2 before weight loss, this resulted in risk reductions for type 2 diabetes (41%), sleep apnoea (40%), hypertension (22%), dyslipidaemia (19%) and asthma (18%).

Lower blood pressure

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

In the study, overweight and obese participants with type 2 diabetes experienced an average decrease of 9 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure. Participants also benefited from significant improvements in other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials indicated that a 1kg loss in body weight was associated with an approximate 1mmHg reduction in blood pressure. This emphasizes that weight loss is important for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Improvements in lipids parameters

Losing less than 15% of your body weight facilitates lowering concentrations of “bad” LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels.

In a meta-analysis of more than 70 randomized-controlled trials, weight loss via different interventions (lifestyle, pharmacologic and surgical) was associated with statistically significant changes in serum lipids.

Added improvements in heart health

Whilst losing 5% of your body weight can help your heart, losing a larger amount leads to greater improvements in heart health via a reduction in blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

In a study of overweight and obese adults, the amount of weight lost was correlated with degree of risk factor improvement. Participants who lost >10 % of their weight experienced significantly greater improvements in glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol than patients losing less.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

The prevalence GERD symptoms improved in both men losing ≥10% of their baseline body weight and women at 5-10%.

Due to the high prevalence (37%) of GERD symptoms in overweight and obese people, researchers noted that weight loss could support complete symptom resolution for the majority of participants.

Less joint pain in knee osteoarthritis

In a study of obese patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA), losing an average of 13.5% of their baseline body weight resulted in notable benefits, including:

  • 7% reduction in knee joint loading
  • 13% lower axial impulse
  • 12% reduction in internal knee abductor moment

Patients stated an improvement in overall movement and a reduction in pain reported during physical movement. 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 10% weight loss improved physical function by 28%.

Lowering cancer-related risks

The development of certain cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic, kidney, ovarian and postmenopausal breast cancer, has been linked with excess fat levels.

A study following postmenopausal women found that losing more than 9kg of their initial body weight reduced their risk for certain cancers, including breast, endometrial, and colon. The overall reduction in incidence rate for any cancer was 11% when compared with participants who did not achieve 9 kg of weight loss.

Increase in sexual satisfaction

Researchers have linked higher BMI with impairments in sexual quality of life, particularly amongst women and gastric bypass surgery candidates.

People with obesity who lost an average of 13% body weight reported significant improvements in their sexual quality of life. Participants reported feeling more attractive and having a stronger sex drive. The majority of improvement was seen in the first three months, after participants had on average lost 11.8% of their body weight.

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

A study of obese women with type 2 diabetes reported that intensive lifestyle intervention with a weight loss of around 7.6 kg improved their sexual function.

Fewer symptoms of post-menopause

Researchers studied post-menopausal women participating in a nutritional program designed to reduce dietary fat and increase fruit, vegetable, and fibre intake.

Women who lost at least 10% of their weight were more likely to reduce or eliminate menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats over a period of one year.

The researchers note that weight loss and a healthy lifestyle appear to be a good alternative approach to hormone therapy for relieving post-menopausal symptoms.

Reduced 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, finding that OSA severity was reduced following weight loss. Participants who lost 10kg or more (approximately 10% of the average body weight of participants) experienced the greatest reduction in OSA symptoms. They concluded that change in body weight led to improvement in OSA severity.

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

Reducing urinary incontinence episodes

Weight loss can lead to fewer episodes of urinary incontinence.

Overweight and obese women with urinary incontinence showed notable improvements following a 6-month weight loss program including diet and exercise.

Following an average weight loss of 8% there was a 47% reduction in the frequency of urinary incontinence episodes, compared to 28% in the control group.

Overall, more women in the weight loss group reported clinically meaningful outcomes. In some cases, there was a 70% reduction in the total number of incontinence episodes, stress incontinence, and urge incontinence episodes.

The researchers concluded that a decrease in urinary incontinence could potentially be a benefit of moderate weight loss.

Improved memory

Being overweight has been negatively linked with cognitive functions.

Similarly, obesity in mid-life has been linked with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer 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.

Losing between 10%-15% of your body weight, and keeping it off, can help you enhance your health – find out which treatment approaches can support you on this journey.

Health improvements up to 15% weight loss and beyond

For those who are able to make big, consistent lifestyle changes, the health benefits can be just as big and consistent.

Sustained weight loss requires commitment to new habits and patterns of behavior.

However, the additional benefits of greater weight loss can be worthwhile depending on your unique concerns. Consult your doctor for a medical evaluation and information on weight loss treatment options.

Losing up to 15% of your body weight can help to:

Support your immune system

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

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

Observations of post-menopausal overweight and obese women who lost more than 15% of their body weight found that their vitamin D levels tripled over the course of the study.

This change came independent of their specific, individual dietary intake. Vitamin D (a fat-soluble molecule) aids in reducing inflammation and influencing cell growth and immune function.

Reduced mortality

In a study by the Institute of Medicine at Gothenburg University, researchers observed adults with obesity over an average period of 10.9 years.

Participants lost an average 18.3% of their body weight from surgical treatment that led to 24% reduction in mortality over the study period.

Reduction in sugar cravings

A study found that overweight people display more frequent cravings for high-caloric palatable foods during the day.

This led to an increase in consumption of foods such as hamburgers, pizza, and candy, especially at non-eating moments.

A separate study in overweight and obese women evidenced similar findings. However, participants were exposed to cognitive behavioral therapy and lost an average of 14.6% of their body weight. Following the therapy period, the women noted decreased preference for sugary foods, leading to a normalized response in palatability.

Lower risk of chronic diseases

Whilst risk factors for certain chronic diseases improve with modest weight loss, there are still more 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, lowering risk factors for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Giving yourself the best chance of relieving symptoms of conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis means losing 10-15% of your body weight.

Weight loss required for therapeutic benefit

If you’re living with excess weight or obesity, starting small might be the way to go. Modest weight loss can provide immediate benefits to your health.

For those suffering from a broad range of health conditions, benefits can be seen with 5% weight loss. Even at 2-3% weight loss medical experts predict improved cholesterol levels and reduced risk of diabetes.

Health improvements continue the more weight you lose. Here, we’ve broken down the therapeutic benefits you may see with each degree of weight loss.

Health benefits from 5% weight loss

  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Easing of knee osteoarthritis  
  • Improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors / heart health benefits
  • Obesity-related chronic inflammation
  • Fewer cancer risk factors
  • Longer, better sleep
  • Improvement in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms
  • Easing rheumatoid arthritis
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)

Health benefits from 10% weight loss

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improvements in lipids parameters
  • Added improvements in heart health
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Less joint pain in knee osteoarthritis
  • Lowering cancer-related risks
  • Increase in sexual satisfaction
  • Fewer symptoms of post-menopause
  • Reduced risk of sleep apnoea
  • Reducing urinary incontinence episodes
  • Improved memory
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)

Health benefits up to 15% weight loss

  • Better immune system
  • Reduce mortality
  • Less sugar cravings
  • Lower risk of chronic diseases

Final thoughts

There is no instant fix to losing weight. As you make progress on your weight loss journey, embrace patience and a long-term mindset.  Health is not solely defined by a number on a scale.

Many of the associated health benefits occur gradually over a number of years. Health is a long-term lifestyle, not a sprint to the finish.

You may experience profound and immeasurable quality of life benefits connected to the gradual alleviation of health issues.

Whilst the path to a healthier lifestyle can be difficult to navigate, remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Embracing small changes now can have huge effects on your future.

If the health benefits of losing weight are starting to make sense, consider this the place to start your weight loss journey.

Your journey begins with speaking to a doctor trained in obesity management. Find out how to start the conversation

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