Younger African-American women who are overweight or obese may work harder to get healthy when they’re told to maintain rather than to lose weight, according to a study by Duke University researchers.

The study, which appears in the Aug. 26 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, compared changes in weight and risk for diabetes, heart disease or stroke among 194 premenopausal black women, aged 25-44, according to Duke University. The researchers recruited women from six nonprofit community health centers that primarily serve poor patients in central North Carolina.

Researchers reported that they found women in the study tended to stay at their weight or even lose a few pounds when they were assigned to a maintenance program. Meanwhile, a comparison group who received usual care did not.

“Many people go to great lengths to lose weight when their doctor recommends it. They may try a series of diets or join a gym or undergo really complex medical regimens. The complexity of these treatments can make it difficult for many to lose a sufficient amount of weight,” lead author Gary Bennett, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and global health at Duke who studies obesity prevention said in a DukeToday story.  “”Our approach was different. We simply asked our patients to maintain their weight. By maintaining their current weight, these patients can reduce their likelihood of experiencing health problems later on in life.”

Cultural views on weight differ among minority communities with non-Hispanic blacks showing the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity, according to federal government statistics.

This latest study takes an interesting approach to the issue, said Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., an American Heart Association volunteer and medical director of Women’s Health and Community Relations for INTEGRIS Health. The organization was not involved in the study.

“I see many patients who gain only a couple of pounds a year, but over the years those pounds really add up. We’ve yet to find the ideal way to motivate patients to make healthy lifestyle changes and this plan is certainly worth consideration,” she said.

Whether it’s a good long-term approach remains to be seen, Bauman said. “But for now this is another tool to add to the toolbox as we try to help our patients find their path to a healthier lifestyle.”

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.