Congratulations. If you are anything like the Americans in a study by a Cornell University professor, your weight will reach an annual low this week or the next. But don’t get too excited — you’ll most likely get fatter soon.
Later this month, the numbers on your scale will begin a long climb past holidays like Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashana and Christmas, peaking around New Year’s Day, according to research published last month as a letter to the editor in The New England Journal of Medicine.
What’s worse, those extra holiday pounds tend to stick around for quite some time.
“Anything that happens in these next 10 weeks, on average, takes about five months to come off,” said Professor Brian Wansink of Cornell’s business school. He conducted the study with Elina Helander of Tampere University of Technology in Finland and Angela Chieh of Withings, a company that sells connected health-monitoring devices.
Using data from thousands of users of Withings’s wireless scales, the three tracked weight gain and loss among adults in the United States, Japan and Germany over one year, starting in August 2012. Americans accounted for nearly 1,800 participants, with around 800 from Germany and almost 400 from Japan.
While different patterns were found in each country, all three had one thing in common: Waistlines tended to grow in the 10 or so days leading up to holidays.
“Whether it be office parties, whether it be receptions, whether it be your friends’ parties, or it could be you just buying a lot of stuff and eating while you’re preparing things, there’s this real ramp up to almost every holiday,” Professor Wansink said.
Weights peaked around the New Year in the United States and Germany. In Japan, they peaked in early May, around the Golden Week holiday. Weights hit rock bottom at the beginning of December in Japan, the end of September in Germany and the beginning of October in the United States. It wasn’t until late April that Americans were able to erase their holiday gains.
Weights rose by as much as 1 percent from their annual low to their annual high in Germany. In the United States and Japan, they fluctuated by as much as 0.7 percent over the course of the year, the study found.
The results represent a narrow slice of the public: The data were gleaned from adult owners of an approximately $150 wireless scale, suggesting that participants had both the motivation and means to get their weight under control.
But, that, Professor Wansink argues, offers only stronger confirmation of the pattern he and his colleagues found.
“Even among this diligent, almost-ideal population, there’s no escaping this almost inevitable holiday weight gain,” he said.
Indeed, about 1 in 4 of the American participants was obese, far fewer than the national rate of more than 1 in 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If anything, Professor Wansink suggested, the participants studied most likely put on less weight and lost it faster than the general population.
Limited though it may be, the research could help to guide Americans to better habits, Professor Wansink said.
“Instead of trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s a whole lot better to maybe have an Oct. 1 resolution to gain less in the first place,” he said.
Stepping on scales more frequently during the holiday season might help, too, he said. Participants who weighed themselves four or more times a week gained less weight and dropped it all more quickly, by the end of January.