Physical activity and a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet prevent weight gain in menopausal women, find University of Pittsburgh researchers

November 08, 1999

ATLANTA, Nov. 8 -- Middle-aged women can avoid the weight gain that often accompanies menopause through increased physical activity and a low-fat, reduced-calorie dietary pattern, according to a University of Pittsburgh study, the first to demonstrate prevention of weight gain in healthy, but at-risk, women. Researchers from the University's Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) are presenting the results Monday, Nov. 8, at the 72nd Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in Atlanta.

These findings are from the Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project, a five-year, randomized clinical trial testing the efficacy of a behavioral lifestyle intervention program in preventing increases in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) and weight gain during the peri- to post-menopausal period.

"We know that adults tend to gain an average of a pound a year, most likely due to the effects of aging and decreased physical activity," said Laurey Simkin-Silverman, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and co-investigator of the study. "This weight gain, particularly with increases in waist circumference, has major implications for cardiovascular health. But through increased leisure-time, physical activity and a low-fat, reduced-calorie dietary pattern, women in this study had dramatic success in avoiding this middle-age weight gain."

The study included 535 pre-menopausal women who were randomly assigned to a behavioral lifestyle intervention (LI) group, which included a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet and physical activity component, or to an assessment-only control group. After four and a half years, twice as many women in the LI group were at or below their entry weight as compared with the control group, which gained steadily over the course of the study. As a group, the LI participants were 0.18 pounds below their entry weight at the end of the study, while controls had gained an average of 5.2 pounds. Likewise, end-of-study waist circumference varied significantly between the two groups, measuring 1.13 inches below baseline for the LI group as compared with 0.18 inches below baseline in the controls.

"The results were overwhelmingly positive," said Dr. Simkin-Silverman. "This study proves that weight gain in middle age is preventable and feasible using a behavioral approach. Changing eating and activity habits is effective, but you must be committed. We're teaching habits for a lifetime."

Dr. Simkin-Silverman will participate in a press conference at 11:15 a.m., EST, Monday, Nov. 8, in the American Heart Association pressroom. Reporters can call the pressroom at (404) 222-5002.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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