Politics is making us miss some really amazing research news

A longtime reader of the blog laments to me that it’s too bad politics is overshadowing clinical and policy news right now. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve posted on a number of interesting studies recently, but they’re just not going to get eyeballs until the election is over. Here’s another:

An intensive diet and exercise program resulting in weight loss does not reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke in people with longstanding type 2 diabetes, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) study tested whether a lifestyle intervention resulting in weight loss would reduce rates of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths in overweight and obese people with type 2 diabetes, a group at increased risk for these events.

Researchers at 16 centers across the United States worked with 5,145 people, with half randomly assigned to receive an intensive lifestyle intervention and the other half to a general program of diabetes support and education. Both groups received routine medical care from their own health care providers.

This study took people with type 2 diabetes, and ran half of them through a lifestyle intervention to help them lose weight. The hope was that people who lost weight would have fewer heart attacks and cardiovascular events. Seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Yes, participants lost weight: 8% in the first year and about 5% at four years. That’s pretty good. But they still had the same number of bad cardiovascular events.

Things were so obviously not working that the researchers and NIH decided to end the study early. Some participants had been going for 11 years.

This doesn’t mean that weight loss is useless. It still could have other health benefits. Lifestyle modification have also been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes. That’s especially important, because if this study shows us anything, it’s that once you get diabetes, it doesn’t seem like you can reduce your risk of heart attack by losing weight after.

A larger point is that we don’t actually know the stuff we think we know. I would have assumed that weight loss would work here. It doesn’t. It took millions of dollars, and years of work to find that out. Research is hard and expensive. We need to keep funding it, and doing it.


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