Everyone received both group and individual counseling for the two-year study period, and they entered diet and exercise information into a computer program that provided feedback on how well they were meeting their dietary goals. About 80 percent of the participants completed the study.
After six months, participants in each group had lost an average of about 13 pounds. After two years, the average weight loss was down to 6 or 7 pounds. The study participants reported similar satisfaction with their diets.
Health measures, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, were also similar between the groups.
"On average, no one diet was better than another," Sacks said. The bottom line if you want to lose weight, he said, is to "eat a heart-healthy diet and be very careful about how much you eat."
This might not be the end of the debate, however. In an accompanying editorial, Martijn Katan, a nutrition professor at VU University in Amsterdam, pointed out that although the researchers had anticipated that the contents of the diets would vary greatly, the actual differences in content between the plans averaged just 1 percent or 2 percent.
So, he says, he doesn't believe that the study settles the issue of diet vs. diet.
Rather, this is yet another study that shows how difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off, he said, because even these people, involved in an intensive intervention, tended to gain the weight back.
"Losing weight and keeping it off can be as tough as kicking a drug habit," Katan said. "The most important determinant of success might not be the composition of the diet. It might be whether your community promotes exercise and curbs high-calorie foods."
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