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Weight Loss Doesn't Reduce Heart Problems for Some

diabetes, diabetes control, A1C, blood pressure
People with diabetes often use a blood sugar monitoring device to help them test and control sugar levels. (Image credit: Dreamstime.)

Diet and exercise can help people with Type 2 diabetes lose weight, but that weight loss may not translate into a lower risk of heart problems, a new study suggests.

In the study, obese adults with Type 2 diabetes who underwent regular counseling sessions to encourage weight loss and physical activity indeed lost more weight than those in the control group who did not undergo such aggressive counseling. Those in the counseling group lost 6 percent of their body weight over the nine-year study, while those in the control group lost 3.5 percent.

However, those in the counseling group were just as likely to suffer cardiovascular problems — such as heart attack, stroke, hospitalization for chest pain or death from heart disease — during the study compared with those in the control group.

The findings do not mean people with Type 2 diabetes should not try to lose weight. Weight loss improved other factors, such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and in some cases, it reversed diabetes completely.

Weight loss can also reduce the rate of sleep apnea, depression, improve people's ability to function in everyday life, and reduce the need for diabetes medication, according to the researchers at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

"Even with no clear evidence of cardiovascular benefit, [the study researchers] have shown that attention to activity and diet can safely reduce the burden of diabetes," Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

A larger study may be needed to see the heart benefits of weight loss, Gerstein said. In addition, whether or not someone is hospitalized for chest pain can be arbitrary, and the inclusion of this measure in the study may have affected the results, Gerstein said.

It's also possible that following a specific diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, rather than simply cutting calories may work better to reduce the risk of heart problems, the researchers said. A study published earlier this year found that a Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of heart attack and stroke in people in Spain.

Changes in diet and exercise have also been shown to delay or prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

The study is published in today (June 24) in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Rachael Rettner
Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a masters degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.