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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 00:05 GMT
'Cut 100 calories a day to lose weight'
An obese person
Growing numbers of people are obese
Eating just 100 fewer calories a day - about three bites of a burger or one biscuit - could prevent the average weight gain each year.

US researchers say encouraging people to cut out even that small amount of calories could be a manageable way of "turning the tide" in the fight against obesity.

People trying to lose weight are constantly told they should exercise more and eat less.

The team from the University of Colorado were quantifying how many "unnecessary calories" people were eating.

It's about ... not too many calories in and too few out

Dr Ian Campbell, National Obesity Forum
The researchers looked at data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study to look at the prevalence of obesity among the population.

They looked at Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by the square of height in metres.

Obesity is defined as having a BMI of more than 30.

'Social change'

The data showed that between 1988 and 1994, the proportion of the population classed as obese had grown from 23% to 31%.

The team predicted that, if present trends continue, 39% of the US population will be obese in 2008.

The researchers said that reducing obesity levels in the long term would require a "social change" campaign, such as those used to encourage people to wear seatbelts or recycle waste.

But they said one way of stopping weight gain in the short term is to demonstrate to people what the "energy gap" is - the amount of calories people consume but do not burn off.

Using the data, they estimated people gained an average of 14 to 16 pounds in eight years, or 1.8 to two pounds each year.

They calculated each pound gained represented 3,500 calories, and that 90% of the population is gaining up to 50 extra calories each day.

Because the body does not store all the extra calories consumed, the researchers estimated at least 50 calories per 100 would be stored as fat.

Steps

As an alternative to cutting out the calories, the researchers suggest people take a little more exercise, such as walking an extra mile each day.

James Hill, of the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center, who led the research, said: "We asked ourselves, 'what's it going to take to start turning the tide?'

"The first measure of success is to stop weight gain. That might not be so overwhelming, since we can break it down into concrete steps.

He added: "Nobody really ever talks about numbers, but that's what we need. Something around 100 calories a day is do-able."

Real life

Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the UK's National Obesity Forum, told BBC News Online the findings were common sense.

But he said: "That doesn't always translate into real life."

He added: "It's about making a sensible balance, and not too many calories in and too few out."

The research is published in Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

See also:

22 Jan 03 | Politics
17 Sep 02 | Health
12 Sep 02 | Health
08 Jan 03 | Health
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