Healthy home may help keep the weight off

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If you’ve lost a lot of weight and want to keep it off, banishing high-fat foods and getting rid of your TV sets might help, along with eating less and staying active, new research hints.

Researchers found that people who had lost weight and had maintained a normal weight for 5 years were much more physically active than obese people who hadn’t lost weight and were also being better able to control their food intake.

But people’s home environment also mattered, Dr. Suzanne Phelan of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and her colleagues found. The weight loss maintainers had fewer TVs in their homes, and were less likely to be stocking their shelves with fatty foods.

Phelan and her team looked at 167 weight-loss maintainers and two groups of 153 treatment-seeking obese individuals to investigate behaviors and environmental factors that might promote sustained weight loss. People in the control groups had been participating in two different studies of weight loss interventions, but remained obese.

People who had kept the weight off expended 2,877 calories in physical activity per week, on average, compared to 762 per week for one of the control groups and 1,003 for the other, the team found.

In addition, weight loss maintainers had fewer TVs in their homes and more exercise equipment than the control groups.

There were also marked differences in the kinds of foods people had in the pantry, with the weight loss maintainers having significantly fewer high-fat items and more low-fat foods like fruits and vegetables and low fat dairy foods.

The weight-loss maintainers clearly had stronger self-control than the persistently obese people, Phelan and her team note, but it’s not clear why.

“The home environment of the weight-loss maintainers contained fewer high-fat foods and televisions and, thus, may have demanded fewer self-control resources than the more ‘toxic’ home environments of the treatment-seeking obese,” they note in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

“You have to pay attention to your home environment if you want to succeed,” Phelan advised in a statement from the Health Behavior News Service. “Do you have TVs in every room? When you walk into your kitchen, do you see high-fat food or healthy food?”

“If you want to choose better foods, keep better foods within reach. Don’t just rely on willpower,” Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut, commented in the statement.

“If you want to be more active, create opportunities for exercise that are always within reach. Don’t just rely on motivation,” added Katz, who wasn’t involved in Phelan’s study. “We should be propagating the awareness that lasting weight control is about skill power, not just willpower.”

SOURCE: Annals of Behavioral Medicine, October 2009.