I am so tired of people pointing to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as proof that people can and do lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off.  Well, yes, a small percentage of people can do that – between 2% and 5% of people who diet keep the weight off for more than 5 years.  That means 98-95% of the people can’t and don’t.

From the NWCR’s own website, here is what NWCR says it is:


“There are currently more than 5,000 members of the National Weight Control Registry, all of whom have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off.  These members lost the weight in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.  Some have lost 30 pounds, some 130 pounds. Some have kept the weight off for one year, some for decades. What they all have in common, though, is a commitment to successful weight loss maintenance. These are the success stories of just a few of our many participants.”  [Emphasis added.]

So to be a “success story” on the NWCR, you only have to keep the weight off for one year.  I could find no statistics on the site or elsewhere that showed how many people on the Registry actually kept their weight off for 5 years or more.

The statistics provided on the site are as follows:

 * Registry members have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for 5.5 years.

* These averages, however, hide a lot of diversity:

** Weight losses have ranged from 30 to 300 lbs.

** Duration of successful weight loss has ranged from 1 year to 66 years!

** Some have lost the weight rapidly, while others have lost weight very slowly – over as many as 14 years.

NWCR is often said to have 10,000 (or more) members; insinuating that all 10,000 have successfully kept 30 pounds or more off.  However, 10,000 is the number of participants being tracked.  Those are people who enrolled in the study.  This does not mean these people have continued to be NWCR “success stories”.

So we have at most 10,000 who have signed up for the study, out of which 5,000 are current members.

I could not find any explanation of why 10,000 are being tracked but there are only 5,000 current members – I don’t know if current members are only those people who continue to keep the weight off or if current members are simply the people who are continuing to be in touch with the NWCR.  I sent an e-mail to NWCR, I called NWCR (got voicemail, left a message).  I have never received a response.

Joanne Ikeda, MA, RD, who was one of the authors of a 2005 critique of NWCR, kindly responded to my inquiry that the answer to my question is “nobody knows”.  However, the critique provided the following information:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1499404606602479 (To see the full text you will have to purchase the article, which I did.)

“The results show that 72% of participants were above their baseline weight when reassessed at year 2 (n = 1630).

“According to a 1997 article, 629 women and 155 men (784 in total) enrolled in the NWCR had lost an average of 30 kg and maintained a required minimum weight loss of 13.6 kg for 5 years.  However, in their 2003 article, only 465 subjects did not regain any weight from baseline to year 2.  There is no mention of what happened to the missing 319 subjects who were labeled as ‘individuals successful at long-term maintenance of substantial weight loss’ in the 1997 publication.  Finally, the researchers have not published any follow-up data on the 784 subjects enrolled in the NWCR since 1997.”

1997 study described above – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9250100?dopt=Abstract

2003 study described above – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14668267?dopt=Abstract

A blogger who registered with NWCR in 2011, provided the following information which she says she received from NWCR:

 “Participants in the registry have lost an average of 72 pounds, and they have maintained the minimum weight loss of 30 pounds for an average of 5.7 years.  But only 13% have maintained this minimum weight loss for 10 years.

”Few people (11%) recovered from even minor lapses of 3-5 pounds regained.”  [Emphasis added by blogger]


Now, according to the Boston Medical Center, approximately 45,000,000 Americans diet each year.


So while there are possibly 5,000 to 10,000 members of NWCR (since 1994) who have been able to sustain weight loss, all this tells you is that these people exit.  That is all it does.

So next time someone cites the NWCR as their “proof” that maintenance of significant weight loss is achievable for other than a few people – remember how small a group the members of NWCR are compared to the number of people dieting each year; and remember that NWCR DOES NOT SHARE ANYTHING WITH THE PUBLIC regarding members who regain weight.

NWCR is also often cited as being a source of information on behavior that results in successful long term weight loss.  Actually, it is simply a source of behaviors implemented by a (small) group of people whose bodies happened to react to those behaviors with weight loss and weight maintenance.  Yippee skippee for them.

So, once again, all together:

We do not know how to achieve long term significant weight loss for most people.

And if someone tells you NWCR proves different, you tell them from me – “Yeah, and my fat ass chews crackers too!”


13 thoughts on “NWCR – SO THE F*CK WHAT?

  1. Check out Debra Sapp-Yarwood’s blog, justmaintaining.com .She is not actively updating it, but it has some interesting articles on the NWCR.
    Gee, I wonder if I should join? (Asked sarcastically.) While I’ve lost a fair amount of weight, none of the loss was due to dieting or exercise, and some of it is due to a chronic illness. It would be ridiculous to call that last reason healthy. If anything, it reinforces my opinion that I don’t have control over my weight whether it goes up or down.
    Your last line gave me a giggle – I thought, if your ass also cuts the cheese, you could send some poor unsuspecting soul a well-deserved snack!

  2. I followed what the weight registry people did e.g. Daily weighing and food tracking and have kept 55 pounds off for 2 years so far. It can be done… But it’s tedious and obsessive.

  3. Bodies respond differently to different things. Some people can go jogging every day and lose weight. Some people can cut down on fast food and lose weight. Most people will have to do a combo of things and keep those new behaviors up religiously. Most people do not do that. It’s all in what works for you personally. Regain in weight is primarily due to regain in behaviors. I’m not saying it’s easy and yes, there is no sure way to achieve long term weight loss for everyone universally I don’t think there ever will be because bodies are so different to each other.

    • Ashley. You are right that every body is different. And the people who can lose and maintain weight loss appear to be very different from most people. People can control their behavior – NOT how their body will react to that behavior. Studies are showing that are bodies are made to fight back – and hard – against weight change. As you say, some people can jog every day – and some DO NOT lose weight. Some people cut down on fast food and lose weight – while others avoid fast food altogether and DO NOT lose weight. There is more at play here than simple behavior.

    • It’s not just about the individual body or behaviors, from what I see around me. It’s a lot to do with environment. I know plenty of people with lots of will power, who just get defeated by their own families and colleagues. They have to make separate meals for themselves – forever, because the kids won’t eat their new food. Nobody can do that. Or hubby or mom gets threatened by the weight loss and starts insisting on bigger meals. You can’t go out to lunch with your friends, the way you always did, or you go back to your old habits. At work, you’re always having to say no to birthday cake or to presents. It’s impossible. So the choice is weight loss and remove yourself from the people you love, or lose weight and find a new life, basically. Everyone I know who’s done it has only done it because they’ve been part of a team effort, with partners and kids involved as well. That’s pretty rare. After the weight has been lost the people who maintain it seem to have changed their life completely, often by becoming a fitness coach or something like that. They make their weight loss into something professional. My life is totally different to what it was before.

      • Again, Janet, this is your experience. There are fat people who eat healthy and exercise regularly. There are fat fitness coaches. There have always been fat people and I believe there will always be fat people. It is part of the wonderful diversity of life.

      • I understand how this would be totally difficult to do. I know of a couple people who made choices to cut down on the sweets and start working out and have lost 100 lbs or more just by doing that and kept it off for several years (so far and counting). These people have one thing in common: They are loners. They like to keep to themselves. They live alone so they have the luxury of not being influenced by others who don’t follow the same practices, so they don’t fall back into those habits that come with extra weight. I have made an effort or start eating healthier. Not for weight reasons but because most of my life I have ate junk and have become addicted all because I was naturally thin, I thought it was ok for me to eat whatever my sweet tooth craved and I would never bare any consequences. I am now seeing many examples that you can be skinny and still over consume on foods high in fat and sweets and suffer chronic illness, and you don’t have to be 55 either. It’s scary so I am making an effort to eat healthy, but it’s hard when you live and grocery shop with a partner who still buys whatever he craves at the moment. And he has a right to get whatever he wants, but I have already realized I am going to have to mentally separate my habits from him completely.

    • There are actually plenty of people who regain *while* keeping up those behaviors religiously. Even turning weight loss into a second job that takes precedence over hobbies, friends, and everything else is not a guarantee that you’ll be successful at it.

  4. “Few people (11%) recovered from even minor lapses of 3-5 pounds regained.” [Emphasis added by blogger]”

    Exactly what does this mean? Does it mean that after gaining 3-5 pounds, people tend to gain it all back, or that this 3-5 lb gain is the big “relapse?” If all you gain of an 100 lb loss is 3-5 pounds, I’m not even sure that’s a relapse.

    • I am not sure what is mean by the minor lapses. I interpret it to mean that once the regain starts, it is extremely difficult to re-lose the re-gained weight. It may be that the 3-5 pound regain puts the member above the minimum overall weight loss that is required (about 30 # for a year).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s