Skip to main content

A new study says many Canadians who lose weight have a difficult time keeping it off.

Overweight and obese Canadians are embracing dubious and expensive weight-loss methods in a bid to shed pounds and those methods are ultimately failing miserably, a new survey shows.

The poll, commissioned by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, shows that 39 per cent of dieters have tried a diet in which they restrict or entirely eliminate food groups, such as the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins regime.

Other popular dieting tools include meal-replacement bars and shakes, used by 31 per cent of people; weight-loss supplements or herbs, 21 per cent; and fasting, the approach adopted by 21 per cent of those polled.

By contrast, only 24 per cent of dieters sought advice from a health professional such as a dietician, nurse or physician. (The total exceeds 100 per cent because some dieters use more than one method.)

"We all want immediate gratification when it comes to losing weight, but research has shown that the quick fix is not the way to go if you want to keep it off," said Carol Dombrow, a registered dietitian.

"The bottom line is that fad diets don't work in the long term. People can't keep them up forever and the weight tends to come back," she said.

Ms. Dombrow said lifestyle changes that result in slow, steady weight loss are the best approach for keeping weight off in the long term.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is promoting a free, personalized, 12-week online program called the Healthy Weight Action Plan that includes access to a weight-loss counsellor.

The poll shows that almost two-thirds of Canadians have tried losing weight in the past five years, but the vast majority have failed to keep it off.

Only 17 per cent of those who were overweight and eight per cent of those who were obese managed to lose at least five pounds and keep them off for a five-year period, the survey found.

The principal reason cited for failing was the lack of support after an initial diet plan.

"Most commercial diets do not work and the reason why they don't work is there's no way for the person to stay on it long term," said Sean Wharton, a physician who operates the Wharton Medical Clinic in Toronto.

That so many are riding the weight-loss, weight-gain roller coaster does not come as a surprise, says Marco Di Buono, director of research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

But what is concerning, he said, how widespread weight problems have become.

"Obesity and overweight have become one of the leading public-health concerns in Canada," Dr. Di Buono said.

"This isn't an esthetic issue, it's a serious health problem," he said.

Earlier research has shown that, over the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity doubled among those ages 40-69 and tripled among those 20 to 39.

Online polling was conducted by Decima Research. A total of 2,010 people were surveyed. The results are considered accurate within five percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey showed dieting is not only commonplace but expensive.

Forty-two per cent of adults polled said they spent more than $500 annually on their weight-loss efforts, spending that including gym fees, diet supplements, and commercial weight-loss plans.

The younger people are, the more they spend trying to lose weight, the poll showed.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe