Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard several people advance the National Weight Control Registry as evidence that people can permanently lose weight. To take just two cases, It is currently prominently featured on the Weight of the Nation website and it was thrown at Julianne Wotasik and I during our interview on Dr. Drew’s show earlier this week. Add to that, my new friend Angela sending her amazing slides for a new UK lecture on the NWCR and a blog post seemed kind of inevitable…
The National Weight Control Registry is a list of about 10,000 people who are at or above age eighteen who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. There are follow up studies done on subsets of the group over time. But in order to initially qualify for this group you must only meet three criteria: be 18 or older, show an initial weight loss of over 30 pounds, and maintain at least 30 lbs of your initial weight loss for one year. As I mentioned on Dr. Drew’s show, I would have qualified for the NWCR at least two different times in my life. But alas, after the one or two year point, I regained my weight plus a little. (It was only when I stopped weight cycling that I have been able to maintain a steady, albeit higher weight.)
There’s lots of argument back and forth about the level of regain among participants. One follow up study from 2003 indicated that among the subset self selected for the review, over 70 percent had regained some weight over the two years of the study. Granted, most of them had retained a significant percentage of their weight loss at this point, but “recovery from even minor weight gain was uncommon”.
But here’s the main thing folks. The National Weight Control Registry is a study of a very, very small, self-selected sample of people who have lost some weight and kept some of it off. The study was never designed to apply to a general population– “Because this is not a random sample of those who attempt weight loss, the results have limited generalizability to the entire population of overweight and obese individuals.” So this is a study of what a very small percentage of people in the United States did in order to lose weight (lots of different things) and keep some of it off. Sure there have been glowing reports of what these folks have in common in maintaining some weight loss. Most severely restrict calories, exercise daily and weigh weekly. And many media outlets have shouted about the fact that most of these folks eat breakfast every day! (Since I’ve eaten breakfast every day for my entire life, and I’m still waiting for the magic weight loss to appear, I kinda wonder if this breakfast thing has a causal relationship with weight loss. But I digress…)
When I say the NWCR is a small sample, I mean it. At any given time, over 70 million Americans are trying to lose weight for good. The NWCR lists 10,000 who have managed to log some success in that regard. We’re talking about a .00014 percent success rate here. As a point of comparison, over 500,000 people completed a marathon last year. And when it comes to an Ironman race (that’s a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 mile run all completed in less than 17 hours with no break) estimates run as high as 25,000 projected participants for this year. So why aren’t we suggesting that all Americans compete in marathons or even Ironman competitions to be healthy? After all, our sample sizes for successful people are 2.5 to 50 TIMES HIGHER than those listed in the NWCR. And since 25,000 people have managed to complete an Ironman, it’s clearly possible, right? Maybe those half million marathoners need to learn from the techniques of the Ironmen and just suck it up and do it. Anybody who doesn’t want to exercise for 17 hours straight is clearly a slacker.
We don’t suggest everyone compete in marathons and triathlons and Ironmans because it’s ridiculous. We know that not everyone has the time, health, money or inclination to train the average 40 miles per week clocked by mere marathoners not to mention the hundreds of miles clocked by Ironmen. While I adored my marathon training and am extremely glad I did it, I just don’t have that kind of time to dedicate to marathon training on top of all of the other fitness classes I’m teaching right now. And with plenty of research indicating that a mere 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is all that is necessary to achieve extremely significant health goals, I’m happy too treasure my medals and move on. And since there is also plenty of research indicating that I can be happy and healthy by engaging in moderate healthy behaviors without significant weight loss, I’m happy to do that too and just get on with my life.
So my dear little chicklettes, I no longer qualify for the NWCR. Maybe you don’t qualify either, but that’s okay. Why not join my extremely exclusive Fat Chick Clique instead? It’s totally free, you get to get free stuff, and you can live your life however you want. Cuz’ that’s just how I roll.
The Fat Chick