Weight Loss Plans for Healthier Hearts

American Heart Association issues guidelines for managing overweight and obesity in adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Extra weight can put patients at risk for developing serious health problems. New guidelines by the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that doctors help their patients find a weight loss plan that works for them.

The guidelines were written by a group of doctors and medical professionals affiliated with the AHA and the American College of Cardiology. This group looked at previous studies to determine the best ways for doctors to prevent additional health problems in overweight or obese adults.

They found that a diet with moderate calorie restriction, an exercise plan and a face-to-face behavior change program would work best for weight loss if it were tailored to the patient's needs and lifestyle.

The authors of the guidelines suggested that significant weight loss could improve overall health, including heart health, within six months.

"If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about a weight loss plan."

Donna Ryan, MD, and Michael Jensen, MD, co-chaired the expert panel that produced the report on managing heart health in overweight and obese adults.

According to the report, more than 78 million American adults were obese in 2010. Obesity increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke and osteoarthritis, just to name a few conditions.

Being obese or overweight also can lead to increased healthcare-related costs. The medical experts wrote that obese patients typically pay 46 percent more on hospital costs, 27 percent more in visits to the doctor and 80 percent more on prescription medications.

In order to develop recommendations for people who are overweight or obese, experts in psychology, nutrition, physical activity, internal medicine and other medical specialties formed a panel to review 133 previous studies and trials.

Based on evidence from that research, the panel advised that doctors with obese or overweight patients do the following:

  • Frequently measure the patient's height, weight and waist circumference and calculate body mass index, a measure that determines whether a person is overweight or obese.
  • Inform overweight and obese adults that they have an elevated risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Counsel those patients on how to improve their health by losing weight.
  • Prescribe a diet plan that reduces daily calorie intake.
  • Provide the patient with an exercise plan and refer them to a weight loss maintenance program, if necessary.
  • Discuss the benefits and risks of weight loss surgery for very obese patients who do not respond to other weight loss programs.

The guidelines also recommended that doctors develop an individualized weight loss treatment plan for each patient that includes a diet with moderate calorie restriction, an exercise plan and behavioral strategies.

For behavior change programs, the guidelines suggested two to three in-person meetings per month for a minimum of six months.

The statement emphasized the importance of patients losing 5 to 10 percent of their body weight within the first six months of the weight loss program in order to address high blood pressure, diabetes risk and cholesterol. 

The authors of the guidelines wrote that there is a need for more research to address whether age, sex or race affects how people benefit from weight loss. 

The guidelines were published in Circulation and in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on November 12.

The research was funded by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. The authors disclosed some financial relationships with health organizations and pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
November 12, 2013
Last Updated:
November 25, 2013