What a Difference 5% Makes!

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Many who are struggling with obesity and overweight think that they have to lose all their excess weight, all the way down to their ideal weight or body mass index (BMI), in order to see any meaningful health benefits. However, research has shown that even a small amount of weight loss can result in big health improvements.

Reduction in Diabetes Risk

In the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study, researchers found that obese or overweight participants who were able to reduce their body weight by at least 5%--along with reductions in saturated fat intake, increases in fiber intake and an increase in exercise to at least 30 minutes per day--had a whopping 58% reduction in development of Type 2 diabetes over 3.2 years of follow-up.

This means that a person who weighs 300 lbs. and loses just 15 lbs. (5% of their total) could see their diabetes risk drop by more than 50%!

Reduction in Triglycerides

Triglycerides, which are a form of fat in the bloodstream and are measured on a routine serum cholesterol panel, are often elevated above normal (sometimes way above normal) in patients who are obese. These triglyceride elevations can result in pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and in cardiovascular disease, both of which can be life-threatening.

Researchers have found that losing just 5% to 10% of body weight (for those who are overweight or obese) can result in a 20% reduction in triglycerides. Once again, this small change in weight can make a big difference for long-term health.

Reduction in Blood Pressure

Another condition that is sensitive to small changes in weight is high blood pressure (hypertension), which is also commonly found in patients who are obese or overweight.

High blood pressure is also a known major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and therefore lowering blood pressure is crucial to reducing the risk for these diseases.

Studies have found that even a small gain in weight, of as little as five pounds, can raise blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.

In one study, conducted in healthy individuals aged 18 to 48, those who gained a small amount of weight, from approximately five to 11 pounds, experienced an average rise in systolic blood pressure (the top blood pressure number) from 114 mm Hg to 118 mm Hg. Those who gained more weight around the abdomen had the greatest increase in blood pressure.

Just as small weight gains can raise blood pressure, so can losing even a small amount of weight result in improved blood pressure. One study that looked at patients with obesity who were in the age range of 20 to 55 years found that those who reduced their calorie intake by 800 calories per day (under carefully guided and supervised study parameters) not only lost weight but also lowered their blood pressures. This study also showed that those who lost weight also improved their obstructive sleep apnea, which is interrelated with both obesity and high blood pressure.

Small Steps, Giant Leaps in Health

Thus, there are many reasons to aim for smaller, short-term weight loss goals.

Rather than trying to tackle a large goal all at once—which can seem so overwhelming as to discourage you from even starting, set a goal of just 5% of your weight, and focus on reaching and maintaining that goal first, knowing that you are doing yourself and your health a great favor in the process. Once you are successful with that first 5%, you can aim for the next 5%, reaping more and more health benefits as you go!


Tuomilehto J, Lindstrom J, Eriksson JG, et al. Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. N Eng J Med 2001;344:1343-1350.

Miller M, Stone NJ, Ballantyne C, et al. Triglycerides and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2011. Published online Apr 18, 2011.

Singh P, Sert-Kuniyoshi FH, Romero-Corral A, et al. Small weight gain can raise blood pressure in healthy adults. American Heart Association meeting report abstract 29. Accessed online at http://m.newsroom.heart.org/news/small-weight-gain-can-raise-blood-pressure-in-healthy-adults on September 12, 2014.

Fernandes JF, Araujo LS, de Lourdes M, et al. Restricting calories may improve sleep apnea, blood pressure in obese people. American Heart Association meeting report abstract 461. Accessed online at http://m.newsroom.heart.org/news/restricting-calories-may-improve-sleep-apnea-blood-pressure-in-obese-people?preview=f84d on September 12, 2014.

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