According to new study findings from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, modest changes in the consumption of specific foods and beverages are strongly linked with long-term weight gain. Researchers found that changes in physical activity, TV-watching, and sleep duration also affected long term weight gain.
Researchers say the average adult gains about one pound each year. Because the weight gain is so gradual and occurs over many years, it has been difficult for scientists to understand the specific factors that may be responsible, until now.
To investigate, researchers studied more than 100,000 participants in three different studies over 20 years, including the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
When the relationship between lifestyle changes and weight gain were evaluated, the findings were strikingly similar in all 3 studies.
Researchers found the foods associated with the greatest weight gain over the study period included potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats.
Researchers found that for each increased daily serving of potato chips, participants gained an extra 1.7 pounds every 4 years. The findings were similar for sugar-sweetened beverages (1 pound), and processed meats (0.9 pound).
Several foods were associated with less weight gain when their consumption was increased, including vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt. In fact, researchers found that participants who ate the most yogurt gained 0.8 fewer pounds, while those who ate the most fruit and vegetables gained 0.5 and 0.2 fewer pounds respectively.
The results also showed that changes in physical activity and TV-viewing influenced changes in long-term weight gain. And those who slept 6 to 8 hours a night gained less weight than those who slept less than 6 or more than 8 hours.
Researchers say, based on their findings, the most useful dietary metrics for preventing long-term weight gain appeared to be focusing on carbohydrate quality by eating less liquid sugars, such as pop, and other sweets, as well as fewer starches (e.g. potatoes) and refined grains (e.g. white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals low in fiber, other refined carbohydrates).
Focusing on eating more minimally processed foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, yogurt) and fewer highly processed foods (e.g. white breads, processed meats, sugary beverages) may also play a role in preventing weight gain over the long-term.
The study appears in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
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