The chances of an obese person being able to attain a healthy weight are incredibly low, and they get even lower once a person reaches the point of severe obesity. These findings, which were the result of a new study looking at data from 278,982 people in the UK health records, suggest that by focussing on simple diet and exercise, current weight management programs just aren't working when it comes to obesity.

A team of researchers at King's College London, found that an obese man has a 1 in 210 chance to get himself to a healthy body weight, which becomes a 1 in 1,290 chance if he's severely obese. For women, being obese means they have a 1 in 124 chance of attaining a healthy body weight, or a 1 in 677 chance if they have severe obesity. 

The study, which has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, tracked the weight of 129,194 men and 149,788 women in the UK from 2004 to 2014. When it came to the obese and severely obese portion of this data set, the researchers calculated how likely it was that they attained either a normal weight or a 5 percent reduction in body weight. Anyone who had undergone bariatric surgery was excluded from the study. 

The team found that the chances of the people in the group achieving a 5 percent weight loss was 1 in 12 for men and 1 in 10 for women. But of those who managed it, 53 percent ended up regaining the weight within two years and 78 percent had put it all back on within five years.

Out of the 278,982 people studied, just 1,283 men and 2,245 women managed to attain a normal body weight for their heights, which is incredibly low. The results also show that high fluctuations of weight were present in a third of the patients, which suggests those who were trying to lose weight struggled to keep it consistent. 

Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight has been shown to have meaningful health benefits and is often recommended as a weight loss target. These findings highlight how difficult it is for people with obesity to achieve and maintain even small amounts of weight loss," one of the researchers, Alison Fildes, said in a press release. "The main treatment options offered to obese patients in the UK are weight management programs accessed via their GP. This evidence suggests the current system is not working for the vast majority of obese patients."

The study reiterates why it can be very dangerous to hang shame on obese people for the state of their health, as we're increasingly discovering that many genetic factors are involved in how a person will end up processing the food they eat, and also how their body will respond to exercise and diets when they try to lose weight. It's not just a case of being lazy and greedy, and even if it was, losing the weight is often not just a case of not being lazy or greedy.

"Once an adult becomes obese, it is very unlikely that they will return to a healthy body weight. New approaches are urgently needed to deal with this issue," says Fildes. "Obesity treatments should focus on preventing overweight and obese patients gaining further weight, while also helping those that do lose weight to keep it off. More importantly, priority needs to be placed on preventing weight gain in the first place."