Comparison of Traditional and Nontraditional Weight Loss Methods: An Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

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To evaluate the real-world use of various weight loss techniques and to compare the effectiveness of nontraditional methods with diet and exercise in helping nongeriatric adults lose weight.


A cross-sectional analysis of the 2005–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was performed. Adult, nonpregnant participants aged 20 to 65 years with a body mass index of ≥18.5 who tried to lose weight in the previous year were analyzed (weighted n = 53,570,979). Outcome measures included the proportion of patients who used nontraditional weight loss methods and a comparison of weight loss between those who used diet and exercise and those who used nontraditional methods.


During the previous year, 56.9% (95% confidence interval 54.5–59.4) of participants used nontraditional methods (nonexclusive of diet and exercise) as their attempted weight loss methods. Overall, individuals gained a mean (standard error) of 4.9 (0.3) lb in the 12 months preceding the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey questionnaire. Only 19.6% (95% confidence interval 18.0–21.2) of the sample lost weight within the previous 12 months. Those who used nontraditional methods gained more weight during the previous year than those who used diet and exercise only (for body mass index ≥18.5, 5.5 vs 3.5 lb; P < 0.01) in the overall sample, but there was no difference in the obese subgroup.


Physicians need to reaffirm that diet and exercise are better methods for weight loss, and they need to advise their patients to avoid other methods when attempting to lose weight because they do not enhance weight loss attempts.

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