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Small change approach to diet and physical activity could help in fight against obesity, new study finds

Making small changes to your daily calorie intake and/or physical activity levels to manage your weight may help to prevent weight gain, a new Loughborough University study has found.

Most adults on average gain 0.5–1 kg per year. As a result, over 50% of the global population are living with being overweight and are at increased risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

With the rising prevalence of obesity, it is estimated that in the UK, annual health costs linked to being overweight will reach £9.7 billion by 2050. These statistics highlight an urgent need to find effective interventions to stop people from gaining weight. It is also important that these interventions are easy for the public to achieve in their everyday lives.

Traditional weight management interventions typically involve asking people to make large changes to their diet and physical activity levels, which can be effective in the short-term, but often leads to weight regain over time.

This new study, conducted by researchers at Loughborough’s Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB), looked at whether a small change approach for weight management is effective in helping the public manage their weight by summarising the results of 21 randomised controlled trials.

For these trials, participants were asked to make small changes to their lifestyle – for example reducing their energy intake by 100-200 calories and/or doing 2,000 extra steps each day – to see if it would prevent weight gain.

The review, conducted by Henrietta Graham, with Professor Amanda Daley and Dr Claire Madigan, found that a small change approach may be effective in preventing weight gain in adults, with an average of 0.7–0.9 kg of weight gain prevented over a follow-up period of eight to 14 months.

Speaking about the study, Henrietta Graham said: “Obesity is a global health crisis and one that is set to worsen. We need to find easy and effective ways to stop people gaining weight. A small change approach may be an alternative strategy that could lead to long-term weight management because people may find small changes easy to incorporate into everyday life and maintain over time.

“This study does show that a small change approach can prevent some weight gain, however we need to have further high-quality trials with longer follow-ups to see if this positive outcome is sustained over time.”

The paper, Is a small change approach for weight management effective? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, is published in the journal Obesity Reviews.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 21/208

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes
The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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