How yo-yo dieting impacts women’s heart health

By Ana Sandoiu 

Fact checked by Isabel Godfrey
New research reveals worrying
associations between yo-yo dieting and seven well-established markers of
cardiovascular health.

As if losing weight wasn’t
hard enough, up to 80 percent of people who manage to lose more than 10 percent
of their body weight end up regaining the weight within a year.
Losing weight for a short
period and then regaining it bears the name of yo-yo dieting, which some people
refer to as “weight cycling.”
Previous research has pointed
out the potentially damaging effects of these repeated cycles of weight loss
and weight gain.
Some studies have suggested
that yo-yo dieting raises the risk of mortality from any cause, while others
have pointed to an increased risk of death from heart disease in particular.
Another study suggested that
yo-yo dieting can lead to a cardiometabolic “roller coaster” in which
cardiovascular health remarkably improves with just a few weeks of healthful
dieting, but the negative cardiovascular effects are immediate once the
individual abandons the diet.
Now, scientists have turned
their attention to the cardiovascular effects of yo-yo dieting in women.
Dr. Brooke Aggarwal, who is an
assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College
of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, led a team examining the effects of
weight cycling on seven heart disease risk factors.
Dr. Aggarwal and her
colleagues presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s (AHA)
Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2019
Scientific Sessions, which took place in Houston, TX.
dieting and optimal heart health
The researchers examined 485
women who had an average age of 37 years and a median body mass index (BMI) of
The study participants
reported how often in their lives they had lost at least 10 pounds and then
regained the weight within a year.
The researchers assessed the
women’s health using “Life’s Simple 7” — the risk factors that the
AHA use to define ideal cardiovascular health.
“Life’s Simple 7”
uses seven modifiable risk factors to measure a person’s heart health. These
factors are: “smoking status, physical activity, weight, diet, blood
glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure.”
Overall, 73 percent of the
women in the study said that they had experienced at least one episode of
weight cycling. These women were 82 percent less likely to have a healthy BMI,
which the medical community defines as being between 18.5 and 25, than the
women who had not had any episodes of yo-yo weight loss.
These women were also 65
percent less likely to fall within the “optimal” range of
“Life’s Simple 7.” The AHA note that people in the optimal range have
a much lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who fall in the
“poor” ranges.
In the current study, the
negative effects of yo-yo dieting were more noticeable in the women who had
never been pregnant.
“The women without a
pregnancy history were likely younger and might be those who started weight
cycling at an earlier age,” explains Dr. Aggarwal.
“We need to identify
critical periods for the effect of weight fluctuation on heart disease risk
over the life course to find out whether it is worse when women start on a
dieting roller coaster at an early age,” she continues.
However, the senior author
emphasizes that the study cannot establish causality. The team was unable to
determine whether yo-yo dieting negatively affects a person’s ability to adhere
to “Life’s Simple 7” or whether the reverse is true.
“We hope to extend the
study 5 to 10 years to confirm these results and look at long-term
effects,” Dr. Aggarwal says.
Although the current findings
are not generalizable to men, “there has been prior research that showed
similar results in men, with those who weight cycled having twice the risk of
cardiovascular death in middle age,” the author explains.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.