INDIANAPOLIS– Extra pounds do not inevitably accompany holiday feasting, according to research presented today at the 55th American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting, held in Indianapolis. Study subjects were screened for weight, cholesterol and other factors before and after the holiday season, as well as logged their nutritional intake. Bucking the tradition of packing on five or more hard-to-lose pounds over Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s, participants did not experience significant changes in body weight, percent body fat, cardiovascular fitness or other indicators.
Lead researcher Sukho Lee, Ph.D., believes the pre-holiday screenings and diet logs provided strong motivation for participants to keep their weight in check. “Instead of telling people what they already know—diet and exercise—we asked them to check their body weight and record what they eat,” he said. “It’s a subconscious effect. You know someone is watching.”
Researchers recruited 11 female and eight male participants from university faculty and staff, then measured them for various factors including body weight, BMI (Body Mass Index), percent body fat, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol. Participants were informed of their weight and percent body fat and were told they would be tested again after the holidays. E-mail reminder notices went out two weeks before the post-test.
While researchers did not recommend diet or exercise programs, they hoped participants would recognize their pre-test body weight as a reference point and monitor their weight through the holiday season. Although study subjects packed on the calories—increasing the average daily intake by 36 percent—Lee believes they were motivated to diet and exercise during the several weeks between the holidays and the post-test. “We assume that they gained weight but were determined to lose it,” he said.
The results, said Lee, point to health screenings as a powerful tool in weight control. He hopes to conduct further research on larger groups of participants, including children, the elderly and people of different ethnicity. Eventually, he said, public-health strategies might include sending mobile mini-clinics to schools or workplaces, or offering them in high-traffic locations such as grocery stores, to conduct screenings.
Participants in Lee’s study increased average daily caloric intake from 1,707 to 2,326 over the holidays. Their total intake of fat and cholesterol also increased, perhaps due to greater consumption of meat and dairy products. Among vitamins and minerals measured, only vitamin A showed higher levels during the experiment, which researchers attribute to the popularity of sweet potatoes as a traditional holiday food.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.
The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.