Once obese there's very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Once obese there’s very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you’ve ever tried to lose a few pounds, you know how hard it can be. A new study confirms that.

British researchers, analyzing UK health records, tracked the weight of nearly 279,000 people – 129,194 men and 149,788 women over a ten year period – 2004 to 2014 – and found the chance of an obese person returning to a normal body weight is very low.

The study, led by researchers at King’s College London and published by the American Journal of Public Health, emphasizes just how hard it is for people suffering with obesity to succeed in losing and then keeping off even small amounts of weight.

For those considered obese – Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 to 35 – only 1 in 210 men and 1 in 124 women were able to drop enough weight to be considered “normal weight.”

The odds really increase for those who are considered severely obese – BMI of 35 to 39 – with to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women reaching normal weight.

Research has shown that a five to ten percent loss of body weight not only provides significant health benefits, but is also an ideal weight loss target.

Obese people, tracked in this study, fared a little better when they aimed for a five percent weight loss.   1 in 12 men and 1 in 10 women were able to shed five percent of their weight.

But the losses were often fleeting.

Unfortunately, 53 per cent of those who lost this weight gained it back within two years and 78 percent had regained the weight within five years.

In other words the, study shows that once an adult becomes obese, there is only a small chance that they will ever get back to having a healthy body weight.

The researchers also noticed that a third of the obese people, involved with the study, cycled back and forth between losing and gaining weight – also called weight cycling and yo-yo dieting.

This led the researchers to conclude methods used for treating obesity today aren’t effective enough to allow obese people to maintain a sustained weight loss.

Body Mass Index - BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Body Mass Index – BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Researchers said a new approach may be needed.

“Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Martin Gulliford, from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, in a press release. “The greatest opportunity for stemming the current obesity epidemic is in wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population,” he added.

The researchers said their study shows an urgent need for the development of new obesity treatment methods, with an emphasis on preventing those who are overweight and obese from gaining any more weight, and helping those that who successfully lose weight to keep it off

They added that there needs to be more of an effort on preventing weight gain in the first place.