The first five percent of the weight loss in obese people offers the greatest benefits when it comes to health, says a new study.
Forty obese men and women were randomly assigned to either lose weight on a calorie-restricted diet or to maintain their current weight.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis took a close look at the differences between those who lost five, 10 and 15 percent of their body weight, and found that the smallest weight loss group saw significant changes that lowered their risk for diabetes and heart disease.
"Our findings demonstrate that you get the biggest bang for your buck with five percent weight loss," said principal investigator Samuel Klein, director of Washington University's Center for Human Nutrition.
Those who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight saw continued improvements in some areas -- like muscle tissue -- but not in liver function or fat tissue, suggesting these "have pretty much achieved their maximum benefit at five percent weight loss," added Klein.
According to current guidelines, people who struggle with obesity are urged to lose five to 10 percent of their body weight.
"This study is good news for people who struggle with their weight as it suggests that even losing a small amount of weight can have a positive impact on heart health," said Tracy Parker, a heart health dietitian with the British Heart Foundation.
"This study is a reminder of the benefits of gradually getting to a healthy weight," added Parker, who was not involved in the study.
Klein said more research is needed to see if people with diabetes might show similar responses to a five percent body weight loss.
In the meantime, less is more when it comes to setting realistic goals, he said.
"If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kilograms), you will be doing yourself a favor if you can lose 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) and keep it off," he said.
"You don't have to lose 50 pounds (23 kilos) to get important health benefits."
The findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.