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Does dieting make you fat? A twin study



To investigate whether the paradoxical weight gain associated with dieting is better related to genetic propensity to weight gain than to the weight loss episodes themselves.


Subjects included 4129 individual twins from the population-based FinnTwin16 study (90% of twins born in Finland 1975–1979). Weight and height were obtained from longitudinal surveys at 16, 17, 18 and 25 years, and number of lifetime intentional weight loss (IWL) episodes of more than 5 kg at 25 years.


IWLs predicted accelerated weight gain and risk of overweight. The odds of becoming overweight (body mass index (BMI)25 kg m−2) by 25 years were significantly greater in subjects with one (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.3–2.6, and OR 2.7, 1.7–4.3 in males and females, respectively), or two or more (OR 2.0, 1.3–3.3, and OR 5.2, 3.2–8.6, in males and females, respectively), IWLs compared with subjects with no IWL. In MZ pairs discordant for IWL, co-twins with at least one IWL were 0.4 kg m−2 (P=0.041) heavier at 25 years than their non-dieting co-twins (no differences in baseline BMIs). In DZ pairs, co-twins with IWLs gained progressively more weight than non-dieting co-twins (BMI difference 1.7 kg m−2 at 16 years and 2.2 kg m−2 at 25 years, P<0.001).


Our results suggest that frequent IWLs reflect susceptibility to weight gain, rendering dieters prone to future weight gain. The results from the MZ pairs discordant for IWLs suggest that dieting itself may induce a small subsequent weight gain, independent of genetic factors.

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We thank the FinnTwin16 participants for their invaluable help in this prospective study. The study was supported by Helsinki University Hospital Research Funds (AR, KHP), grants from Novo Nordisk, Gyllenberg, Yrjö Jahnsson, Biomedicum Helsinki, the Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation, and the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research (KHP), the Väinö and Laina Kivi Foundation (SES), the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics (Grants 213506 and 129680 to JK). Data collection in FinnTwin16 was supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grants AA-12502 and AA-09203 to Richard J Rose), and the Academy of Finland (Grants 44069 and 141054 to JK).

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Correspondence to K H Pietiläinen.

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Pietiläinen, K., Saarni, S., Kaprio, J. et al. Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. Int J Obes 36, 456–464 (2012).

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  • weight loss
  • weight regain
  • longitudinal studies
  • genetic
  • twins

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