Weight loss strategies, weight change, and type 2 diabetes in US health professionals: A cohort study


Weight loss is crucial for disease prevention among individuals with overweight or obesity. This study aimed to examine associations of weight loss strategies (WLSs) with weight change and type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk among US health professionals.

Methods and findings

This study included 93,110 participants (24 to 60 years old; 11.6% male) from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHSII, and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) cohorts who were free of T2D, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline (1988 for NHS/HPFS and 1989 for NHSII) for analyses of weight change and 104,180 (24 to 78 years old; 14.2% male) for T2D risk assessment. WLSs used to achieve an intentional weight loss of 4.5+ kg were collected in 1992 (NHS/HPFS)/1993 (NHSII) and grouped into 7 mutually exclusive categories, including low-calorie diet, exercise, low-calorie diet and exercise, fasting, commercial weight loss program (CWLP), diet pills, and FCP (selected at least 2 methods from fasting, CWLP, and pill). The reference group was participants who did not attempt to lose weight. Generalized estimating equations and Cox regression were applied to estimate up to 10-year weight change trajectory and incident T2D risk through 2016 (NHS/HPFS)/2017 (NHSII), respectively.

The associations of WLSs with weight change and T2D risk were differential by baseline body weight (Pinteraction < 0.01). Among individuals with obesity, all WLSs tended to associate with less weight gain [ranging from −4.2% (95% confidence interval (CI), −5.1% to −3.2%; P < 0.001) for exercise to −0.3% (−1.2% to 0.7%; P > 0.99) for FCP] and a lower T2D risk [hazard ratios (HRs) ranging from 0.79 (0.66 to 0.95; P = 0.04) for exercise to 0.87 (0.66 to 1.13; P = 0.30) for pill]. Such a pattern was less clear among overweight individuals: the difference of weight change varied from −2.5% (−3.0% to −2.1%; P < 0.001) for exercise to 2.0% (1.3% to 2.7%; P < 0.001) for FCP, and HRs of T2D varied from 0.91 (0.77 to 1.07; P = 0.29) for exercise to 1.42 (1.11 to 1.81; P = 0.02) for pill. The pattern was further inverted among lean individuals in that weight change ranged from −0.4% (−0.6% to −0.1%; P = 0.02) for exercise to 3.7% (3.1% to 4.3%; P < 0.001) for FCP, and the HRs of T2D ranged from 1.09 (0.91 to 1.30; P = 0.33) for exercise to 1.54 (1.13 to 2.10; P = 0.008) for pill. Approximately 15.6% to 46.8% of the association between WLSs and the T2D risk was attributed to weight changes. This study was limited by a single assessment of WLSs, heterogeneity within each WLS, and potential misclassification of the timing of weight loss and weight regain.


The current study showed that individuals with obesity who attempted to lose weight, regardless of the WLSs used, tended to gain less body weight and have a lower diabetes risk. In contrast, lean individuals who intentionally lost weight tended to gain more weight and have a higher diabetes risk. These data support the notion that intentional weight loss may not be beneficial for lean individuals and the use of WLSs for achieving weight loss shall be guided by medical indications only.