// Research review - Impact of regular self-weighing on weight management

by Dr Mike Climstein


Title: ‘The impact of regular self-weighing on weight management: A Review of the Literature’ Authors: Dr’s VanWormer et al., (Minneapolis Heart Institute and Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, USA). Source: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 54 (5): 2008. Available free online at www.ijbnpa.org/content/5/1/54

Well, this is a very timely article for me – and probably a few others who have overindulged during the recent holiday period. I have to employ intense mental preparation every day now prior to stepping on the scales… should I, shouldn’t I? As a health professional I must be able to rationalise my decision. If I weigh myself daily, I can trend my ‘anticipated’ weight loss or – worst case scenario – attempt to minimise a day’s caloric intake if I am heavy on the scales that morning. Decisions, decisions.

Introduction: Fortunately investigators from Minnesota have just completed a review of the literature pertaining to the frequency of self-weighing and weight loss. The Minnesota investigators reviewed a total of 12 research studies to help determine the effectiveness of varying weighing frequencies (daily, weekly or monthly) to help ascertain which frequency resulted in the best predictor of either moderate weight loss, less weight regain, or avoidance of initial weight gain.

The authors report that excess body weight is the leading cause of death in the USA and, as we are aware, contributes to the development of, or complication of, a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, type II diabetes and a number of cancers. Furthermore, they report that a modest weight loss has been shown to reduce the incidence of these chronic diseases and other ‘obesity-related’ health conditions such as hypertension, osteoarthritis, gout and sleep apnoea.

VanWormer and colleagues reviewed the literature and found that regular self-weighing was a common strategy in individuals, 75 per cent of whom were successful at losing weight in the long-term. They found that individuals who self-weighed frequently were more focused on, and more sensitive to, changes in their weight. Moreover, the high frequency of weighing was seen to create more opportunities for positive self-reinforcement of small losses in weight, or weight maintenance. However, they also found that a large number of health professionals believe that a high frequency of self-weighing in some individuals may produce negative psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety and an unhealthy preoccupation with weight.

For their research, Dr VanWormer and his colleagues completed a thorough review of the existing literature using Medline, Ovid, CINAHL and PsychINFO. A total of 249 articles were found, however only 12 met the stringent criteria the researchers had set. Surprisingly, a number of the studies investigating weight loss did not include assessing body weight (21 per cent), assessing self-weighing (66 per cent) or did not quantify the relationship between self-weighing and body weight (23 per cent).

Results: Eleven of the 12 studies found that frequent self-weighing (daily or weekly) was associated with greater weight loss, weight maintenance, or less body weight compared to infrequent weighing. Overall, daily or weekly self-weighers attained a one to two unit BMI advantage over non-frequent self-weighers. With regard to weight loss, daily or weekly self-weighers lost about two to three BMI units (equating to approximately 5.4 to 8kg) compared to the non-frequent self-weighers.

Discussion: The authors concluded that based on the studies reviewed, frequent self-weighing appears to be a good predictor of both moderate weight loss and weight maintenance in individuals who have either lost weight and are attempting to keep the weight off or in individuals who are attempting to avoid weight gain.

Pros: A good study; it is very helpful when authors complete a thorough review of the literature available on a certain field and provide an overview of the findings to date.

Cons: Given the epidemic of obesity in the modern world, I would have expected the concept of ‘self-weighing’ to have been thoroughly investigated with clear recommendations available both to individuals striving to attain improved weight management and for health professionals. More research is clearly needed in this area. It would have been beneficial if the authors commented on weighing with regard to children’s obesity.


Dr Mike has an academic appointment with the School of Exercise Science, Australian Catholic University (NSW) and a clinical appointment as Director of Chronic Disease Rehabilitation at the Vale Medical Clinic, NSW. He is recognised as one of Australia’s leading clinical exercise physiologists working with patients suffering from a wide array of chronic diseases and disorders. For more information on any of the Research Reviews e-mail mike.climstein@acu.edu.au

NETWORK • AUTUMN 2009 • PP63-64