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More research is needed to determine the best ways to avoid gaining weight – diet changes can help

Hutfless S, Gudzune KA, Maruthur N, et al.  Strategies to prevent weight gain in adults: A systematic review  Am J Prev Med 2013;45(6):e41–e51

Review question

What are the best ways to prevent weight gain in adults?


Obesity is a leading cause of preventable health problems in North America and worldwide. Avoiding gaining weight is one way to promote a healthy weight among adults and may be a better approach than weight loss, which is hard for people to maintain.

How the review was done

This review included 22 studies that involved a total of 480, 142 participants. Five of these studies focused on older adults (average age 60+). The studies looked at whether diet, exercise, self-management approaches (eg. sleep habits or TV watching) or a combination of all three work best to help people avoid gaining weight.  Any studies of approaches to help people lose or gain weight were not included.

 The studies measured any changes in participants’ body mass index (BMI), weight and/or waist measurements, as well as whether participants kept up the changes, their quality of life and the safety of the approaches (eg. effects on nutrition, injuries or eating disorders). Changes were measured for participants while they were involved in the study and at least 12 months later.  Any changes in weight were compared to a control group of people receiving the usual care. The weight loss approaches were very different in length: the shortest was one 30 minute session with follow-up mailings and phone calls, the longest was 12 years of regular visits.

What the researchers found

It was difficult to make strong recommendations about the best ways to avoid gaining weight.  Although some approaches seemed to help participants avoid gaining weight, the results were often not that different from weight changes of people in the control group.  The authors wondered if people in the control group who did not get advice or support still took extra care to avoid gaining weight, since they knew their weight would be measured. If this is true, perhaps regular weighing can help people maintain their weight.

Some approaches that did help people avoid gaining weight were: 1) eating a low-fat diet; 2) eating out less often; 3) eating more fruits and vegetables; 4) group sessions about lifestyle changes and text message support; 5) monitoring heart rate during exercise. Different approaches worked better for different groups of people.

There were not many high-quality, long-term studies of ways to avoid gaining weight, and none that focused on people who have healthy weights.  Knowing more about the best ways to avoid gaining weight and promoting a number of different methods can help people to choose the approach that works for them.


There is not strong evidence to suggest the best ways to avoid gaining weight. Choosing a low-fat diet, eating out less often, eating more fruits and vegetables, group lifestyle sessions with reminder text messages and monitoring your heart rate during exercise may help.



Related Topics


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.

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Related Web Resources

  • Obesity in adults

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends behaviour change programs to help adults who are overweight or obese lose weight, since there is evidence that these programs work. Behavioural change programs include education and support to help patients improve their diet and physical activity.
  • Obesity and overweight in adults

    Increased weight can put you at risk for things like joint pain, low energy, and many health problems. Lose weight by eating healthy and increasing physical activity. Ask your doctor if your weight might be affecting your health.
  • Let's talk about portion size and overeating

    Evidently Cochrane
    Bigger portions, packaging and tableware may cause you to consume more food and drink. Limit portion sizes of fatty foods and sugary drinks to maintain a healthy diet.
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