It was fun last night to hear Dr. Frank Sacks too excited about his NEJM article The Pounds Lost Trial which comes out today (New England Journal of Medicine), to give the talk he was scheduled to deliver at the Nutrition Roundtable at Harvard School of Public Health. The old story was “Please pass the salt. How much sodium is too much?” The new story is “When you want/need to lose weight, there’s no difference in either success or health that depends on the diet you choose.’ Go Atkins, go South Beach, go Weight Watchers (although there may be an edge here, but more on that later)…go Mediterranean. They all work as long as you keep you caloric intake under control. “it’s the null hypothesis in terms of the differences between the diets,” Dr Sacks says.
This is the longest, largest study ever completed of how the weight loss diets differ. Sacks calls the results, “A relief. It simplifies things. takes the whole question of what you eat out of the weight loss conversation.” Most diet studies have a high dropout rate, (people get bored), or are skewed towards women (this one had a reasonable balance of men and women in their early 50′s). Sacks study compared four popular diets concepts and meal plans, which according to Sacks, were all “equally tasty. If one group had jam or butter on their bread, the other one had peanut butter. There was no one diet with the good food and the other ones were losers.”
Dr. Sacks is a Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Harvard Medical School and at the HSPH Department of Nutrition. He is publishing today the results of a two year study of over 800 men and women, in two locations (Boston and Baton Rouge, LA) who were divided up into four groups and each set of 200 were put on one of four different diets. The diets were four variants of high-fat, low-fat, high protein, low protein, high carbs, low carbs that mirror all the diets that are on talk shows and airport malls today. At the end of two years–the participants had mostly all lost 20 pounds or more, and lost inches from their waistlines–and most had kept it off for the two years of the study.
One interesting finding is that group participation seems to matter to weight loss. (Listen up Weight Watchers etc.!) As part of the study, people had to go to weekly support group meetings, and have regularly scheduled individual support session and medical monitoring (blood tests, weigh ins etc). “Participation matters,” Dr. Sacks says. “On, the whole, people who show up for meetings seem to do better.” But there were still people who showed up every session and still lost close to bupkes. Maybe they came for the coffee.