It’s common knowledge that most people gain around 5 pounds over the holiday season. It’s also wrong, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The average holiday weight gain for adults in the United States is actually just under a pound, according to researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, to the contrary of New Year’s resolutions, you probably won’t lose that extra weight come January. In fact, volunteers who participated in the study gained an average of nearly 1 1/2 pounds over the course of a year, according to Susan Yanovski, MD, executive director of the NIDDK National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity.
“It may not sound like a lot,” says Dr. Yanovski, a co-author of the study. “But that 1 pound a year, year after year, really puts extra stress on the body. Studies show that gaining 10 or 15 pounds over adulthood is dangerous for your health. It’s associated with developing diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.”
Obesity Problem Increasing
The number of people in the United States who are overweight or obese has grown dramatically over the last decade, Dr. Yanovski says. More than half of all adults in the United States are overweight, and nearly half of them are considered obese.
What is overweight, and what is obese? The terms are based on the body mass index (BMI), which you can calculate based on your weight and height. Multiply your weight by 700. Now divide the result by your height, in inches. Divide that number by your height in inches again. That’s your BMI. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight, and 30 or more is obese. (Check your own BMI on our BMI calculator.)
Say you’re a woman 5 feet 6 inches tall who graduated from high school weighing 130 pounds. You had a BMI of 20.9. That’s healthy. Twenty years later, you attend your high school reunion. Like many of your classmates, you’ve gained a little weight–in your case, 1 1/2 pounds a year. Now, at age 37, you weigh 160 pounds, and your BMI is 25.7. You are not just overweight; you are putting your health at risk. It may be normal to gain a little weight each year, but that does not mean it’s desirable.
“One of the best ways to prevent obesity is to keep from becoming overweight in the first place,” Dr. Yanovski says. “It’s important to figure out when and why people gain weight so that we can effectively help them prevent weight gain.” In a study done before, during, and after the holiday season, Dr. Yanovski and her colleagues recorded the health backgrounds of 195 volunteers and weighed them every 6 weeks. One year after the study began, 165 volunteers returned for one last weigh-in. The racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse group looked pretty much like the rest of the US, ranging in weight from 95 to 306 pounds.
The volunteers gained an average of just over a pound between late- September-early October, and late- February-early March. Most of the weight was gained during those 6 hectic weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Study volunteers who reported being less hungry or more active compared with their previous visit were much less likely to gain weight over the holidays, the researchers found. “You can’t do an awful lot about your hunger over the holidays,” says Dr. Yanovski, “but you can do something about your activity.”
In what seems to be a cruel twist of fate, Dr. Yanovski noted that those volunteers who were already overweight or obese were more likely to gain weight over the holiday season than those who were not. “This may be a group that needs to be especially careful over the holiday season,” she says.
Article by: Sara Latta, Medical Writer