NIH Confirms 'Biggest Loser' Method Works

A National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases senior investigator and colleagues analyzed data from 11 participants on the reality TV show. They concluded diet matters more for weight loss than intensive exercise, and more moderate lifestyle changes are enough to keep the weight off.

The National Institutes of Health has highlighted a new study funded and conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one of its units. NIDDK Senior Investigator Kevin Hall, Ph.D., and colleagues evaluated how much daily strenuous exercise and a restricted diet contributed to weight loss by 11 participants on the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser." They concluded exercise and healthy eating are better for reducing body fat and preserving muscle in adults than diet alone, and that more moderate lifestyle changes than those used on the show are enough to keep the weight off.

The study has been published online in Obesity, official journal of The Obesity Society, and will be published in a future print edition, according to NIH.

"By including the show's contestants as voluntary study participants, this research took advantage of a cost-efficient opportunity to study a small group of obese individuals already engaged in an intensive lifestyle intervention," said Hall, who has no financial ties or affiliation with the show.

Researchers measured body fat, total energy expenditure, and resting metabolic rate at the start of the program, at week 6, and at week 30, which was at least 17 weeks after participants returned home from a ranch where the program was filmed. Participants' average weight loss was 128 pounds, with about 82 percent of that coming from body fat and the remainder from lean tissue.

NIH's release said Hall used a mathematical computer model of human metabolism to calculate the diet and exercise changes underlying the observed body weight loss. He estimated diet alone was responsible for more weight loss than exercise, and calculated the participants could sustain their weight loss by adopting more moderate lifestyle changes, such as 20 minutes of daily vigorous exercise and a 20 percent calorie restriction, than those used in "The Biggest Loser."

"This study reinforces the need for a healthy diet and exercise in our daily lives," said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. "It also illustrates how the science of metabolism and mathematical modeling can be used to develop sound recommendations for sustainable weight loss — an important tool in the treatment of obesity — based on an individual's unique circumstances."

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