PITTSBURGH—Older women who increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables and decrease consumption of desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, meat and cheese are most likely to control their weight over time, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and the Graduate School of Public Health studied 465 overweight and obese postmenopausal women previously enrolled in Pitt Public Health’s Women on the Move through Activity and Nutrition (WOMAN) study and analyzed changes in eating habits and weight loss from the beginning of the study to six and 48 months.
The women were randomly assigned to either a lifestyle-change intervention group or a control group. The women in the intervention group regularly met with nutritionists, exercise physiologists and psychologists, while women in the control group were offered occasional seminars over the study period focusing on general women’s health. Participants in both groups self-reported their eating habits using a detailed questionnaire. At the end of the four years of the study, 57% of the intervention participants and 29% of controls had maintained at least a 5-pound weight loss.
Women in both groups who decreased their consumption of desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages experienced a greater weight loss than those who did not in both the short- and long-term. However, participants who decreased fried foods and eating out, and increased fish consumption had greater weight loss at six months; those who increased their fruit and vegetable intake and decreased intake of meats and cheeses were more likely to be successful at long-term weight loss. Eating out and eating fried food had no apparent effect on long-term weight change.
“With more than one-third of all Americans considered obese, it’s clear that standard behavioral obesity treatment is producing poor long-term results," said Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Health and Physical Activity, University of Pittsburgh. “We found that some important behaviors differ for long-term versus short-term weight control among women in their 50s and 60s, who are already at higher risk for weight gain."
She said behaviors like cutting out fried foods may work in the short-term, but may be too restrictive to continue for a long period of time. On the other hand, adding fruits and vegetables may be a small change that makes a difference over a period of many months or years.