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Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov;102(5):995-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115402. Epub 2015 Sep 9.

Short-term variability in body weight predicts long-term weight gain.

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Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA; and
Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA; and.
Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, OR.



Body weight in lower animals and humans is highly stable despite a very large flux in energy intake and expenditure over time. Conversely, the existence of higher-than-average variability in weight may indicate a disruption in the mechanisms responsible for homeostatic weight regulation.


In a sample chosen for weight-gain proneness, we evaluated whether weight variability over a 6-mo period predicted subsequent weight change from 6 to 24 mo.


A total of 171 nonobese women were recruited to participate in this longitudinal study in which weight was measured 4 times over 24 mo. The initial 3 weights were used to calculate weight variability with the use of a root mean square error approach to assess fluctuations in weight independent of trajectory. Linear regression analysis was used to examine whether weight variability in the initial 6 mo predicted weight change 18 mo later.


Greater weight variability significantly predicted amount of weight gained. This result was unchanged after control for baseline body mass index (BMI) and BMI change from baseline to 6 mo and for measures of disinhibition, restrained eating, and dieting.


Elevated weight variability in young women may signal the degradation of body weight regulatory systems. In an obesogenic environment this may eventuate in accelerated weight gain, particularly in those with a genetic susceptibility toward overweight. Future research is needed to evaluate the reliability of weight variability as a predictor of future weight gain and the sources of its predictive effect. The trial on which this study is based is registered at as NCT00456131.


body weight; set point; weight fluctuations; weight gain; weight variability

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