Recent trends in weight loss attempts: repeated cross-sectional analyses from the health survey for England

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Public policies and clinical guidelines encourage people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and societal culture, especially among women who tend to idealise thinness.


To examine trends over time in the prevalence of weight loss attempts in England (1997–2013) and to investigate if the characteristics associated with attempts to lose weight have changed.


Observational study using nationally representative data on adults ≥18 years who participated in the Health Survey for England (HSE) in 1997 (n=8066), 1998 (n=14 733), 2002 (n=8803), 2012 (n=7132) and 2013 (n=7591), with self-reported attempts to lose weight, cardiovascular disease (CVD) events or medications and measured height, weight and blood pressure. Multivariable logistic regression was used to assess the association between weight loss attempts and survey year, sociodemographic variables and health status.


The age-standardised prevalence of weight loss attempts in the English population increased from 39% in 1997 to 47% in 2013. In 2013, 10% of those with BMI <22; 30% with BMI ≥ 22 to <25; 53% with BMI ≥25 to <30; and 76% with BMI ≥ 30 were trying to lose weight. The odds of trying to lose weight increased linearly with each year: odds ratio (OR) 1.021 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.018–1.024) and 1.024 (95% CI 1.008–1.039) after adjustment for changes in BMI and population characteristics. The biggest predictors of weight loss attempts were being in the overweight/obese categories: 5.42 (95% CI 5.05–5.81) and 12.68 (95% CI 11.52–13.96), respectively; and among women: 3.01 (95% CI 2.85–3.18). Having a BMI >25 and a CVD-related condition was associated with only a small increase in the odds of trying to lose weight. There was no evidence that these predictors changed over time.


More people are making weight loss attempts each year across all BMI categories. Having a health condition that would improve with weight loss was only very modestly associated with an increase in reported weight loss attempts, which reinforces data that suggests people's prime motivation to lose weight is unrelated to health.

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