Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How much weight do we really gain during the holidays?

I have been reading for years that the typical American gains 7-10 lbs. between the holiday season of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. However, the sources were never research based, so I have always wondered if this is really true. 

So, I decided to do a scan of the nutrition research literature to see what I could find. I was surprised that there is almost no research in this area. I found one well designed study on holiday weight gain from the New England Journal of Medicine, but it was published way back in March of 2000.

This was a simple study conducted at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In this investigation, 195 adults were weighed 4 times throughout the year: Before Thanksgiving, right after the holidays in early January, a bit after the holidays, in late February/early March and the following September.

At first I was surprised by the results, and then they made more sense. The average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day was about 1 pound, which was the surprising part. However, 10% of the subjects gained 5 or more pounds. As the subject’s starting weight increased, there was a trend of an increased risk of gaining at least 5 lbs. In other words, if you were overweight at the start of the study, your risk of gaining 5 lbs was higher than those with a normal weight, and if you were obese, the risk was even higher than that. 

A disturbing finding was that by the following September, the one pound weight gain remained. So, if you gain a pound every holiday season and don’t lose it, you’re looking at 5 lbs. every 5 years. This, obviously, can really add up and become a problem.

While this is just one study, it was very well done. It appears that most of us don’t gain much weight at all during the holidays, but we never seem to lose the pound or so that we do gain. The overweight and obese have a higher risk of gaining significant weight.  Generally, we don’t average the commonly referenced 7-10 pound holiday weight gain, but we do add a little and all need to be especially vigilant now that January is here!

New England Journal of Medicine 2000; 342:861-67

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