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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 00:31 GMT
Christmas weight gain 'small'
Obesity affects almost one in five people in the UK
People do not gain as much weight over the Christmas period as has traditionally been thought, research suggests.

While most volunteers surveyed thought they had gained at least 5lbs (2.27kg) during the holiday season, actually only one in 10 had really put on that much.

The bad news is that weight gained over the winter holiday isn't lost during the rest of the year

Dr Jack Yanovski
The US study found that the 195 volunteers gained an average of 0.8lb (0.36kg) during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

But the researchers warned that though the Christmas-time rise was lower than thought, few people ever lose those extra pounds.

Previous research has shown that the average American gains 0.4 to 1.8lbs (0.18 to 0.82kg) a year during their adult lives.

More than half of Americans are overweight and one in five are designated obese. In the UK, 20% of women and 18% of men are obese and 45% of women and 33% of men are overweight.

A government white paper published last year aimed to reduce obesity, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. Treating the effects of obesity costs the NHS around 1.73bn a year.

Yearly gain

The latest study, by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the US and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that most of the yearly gain was added during the Christmas period, even though it was less than previously thought.

By the end of the year, volunteers were on average 1.4lbs (0.64kg) heavier than at the beginning of the year.

Dr Jack Yanovski, who led the research, said: "Although an average holiday weight gain of less than a pound may seem unimportant, that weight was not lost over the remainder of the year.

"This is a 'good news/bad news' story. The good news is that people don't gain as much weight as we though during the holiday.

"The bad news is that weight gained over the winter holiday isn't lost during the rest of the year."

He added that promoting control of weight during the autumn and winter may be useful in controlling the increase of weight during people's adult lives.

Obese people
Weight rises during adult life
Ian MacDonald, professor of metabolic physiology at Nottingham University medical school, said the results of the study were a cause for concern.

"It is worrying that if the annual increase is 1.4lbs, 50% of that is being gained in the six week period from the middle of November. And if one in 10 are gaining 5lbs in that period, then that is very worrying.

"It is not very surprising given that rates of physical activity in the US are very low. We are about five to 10 years behind them in the UK, but there is no room for complacency here.

"Something has got to happen to address the issue of inappropriate food consumption."

A spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation said: "While this study shows that the amount of weight gain may not be as high as suggested, at least in the US, it shows that it does occur and obviously contributes to long-term weight gain and the trend of increasing obesity.

"Obviously while people find it very easy to gain weight during this time, they find it much more difficult to lose it afterwards. Perhaps this will encourage people to stick to their New Year's resolution to eat more healthily after the festive season."

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