A diet and exercise regimen triggering weight loss does not reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke in diabetics, finds a new study.

However, shifting pounds exhibited other important health benefits including slashing the risk of chronic kidney disease, depression, eye disease and sleep apnea.

It also helped control blood sugar, led to fewer hospitalizations, reduced the need for diabetes medications, helped to maintain physical mobility, and improved quality of life.

“Weight loss is still important, but the reasons why it is important are different than we thought,” says Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and chairman of the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) study.

Study details
The focus of the Look AHEAD study was to assess whether a lifestyle intervention resulting in weight loss would reduce rates of cardiovascular events in overweight and obese diabetics (a group at increased risk for these events).

In 2001, experts enrolled 5,145 overweight or obese patients with
type 2 diabetes at 16 centers in the United States. Average age of the study subjects was 58.7, mean body mass index (BMI) was 36, the median duration of diabetes was 5 years. Around 14 percent had a history of cardiovascular disease.

Half the patients were randomized assigned to receive an intensive lifestyle intervention (focus on weight loss through intensive diet and increased physical activity), and the control group to general program of diabetes support and education.

The two groups received routine medical care from their own health care providers. As a part of the study, the patients were tracked for about 10 years.

Revelations of the study
The intervention group lost an average of 8.7 percent of their initial body weight after one year. Moreover, they maintained an average weight loss of nearly six percent at four years. Participants in the support and education group shed about one percent of their initial weight after one year and 3.5 percent after 10 years.

However, despite losing more body weight, the intervention group was just as likely to suffer heart attack, stroke, hospitalization for chest pain or death from heart disease as the control group.

“Even with no clear evidence of cardiovascular benefit, [the study researchers] have shown that attention to activity and diet can safely reduce the burden of diabetes,” Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

The study is published in today (June 24) in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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