Pitt Researchers Identify Behaviors That May Lead to Successful Weight Control in Older Women

Older women who increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased consumption of desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, meat and cheese were the most likely to control their weight over time, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and the Graduate School of Public Health.

“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.”

Dr. Barone Gibbs is the lead author of the study, which will be published in the September issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is now available online.

Researchers 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 percent of the intervention participants and 29 percent of controls had maintained at least a five-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.

“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,” said Dr. Barone Gibbs.

Researchers at Pitt Public Health conducted the WOMAN study from April 2002 to June 2008 to investigate whether a change in diet and lifestyle, along with a 10 percent reduction in body weight, could lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and decrease cardiovascular disease.

“Four years later, the secondary data from the WOMAN study is still providing insight to those working to achieve better health,” said study co-author Lewis Kuller, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor emeritus in the Department of Epidemiology, Pitt Public Health. “Focusing on eating behavior, rather than specific diets, may improve long-term weight loss programs.”

Collaborators in the study included Laura S. Kinzel, M.S., R.D., University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health; Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston; and Yue-Fang Chang, Ph.D., School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.

The research was funded by grant R01-HL-66846 of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Click here for an audio podcast of Dr. Barone Gibbs discussing the study.


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