Effect of cutting down the fat we eat on body weight

The ideal proportion of energy from fat in our food and its relation to body weight is not clear. This review looked at the effect of cutting down the proportion of energy from fat in our food on body weight and fatness in both adults and children who are not aiming to lose weight. The review found that cutting down on the proportion of fat in our food leads to a small but noticeable decrease in body weight, body mass index and waist circumference. This effect was found both in adults and children. The effect did not change over time.

Authors' conclusions: 

Trials where participants were randomised to a lower fat intake versus usual or moderate fat intake, but with no intention to reduce weight, showed a consistent, stable but small effect of low fat intake on body fatness: slightly lower weight, BMI and waist circumference compared with controls. Greater fat reduction and lower baseline fat intake were both associated with greater reductions in weight. This effect of reducing total fat was not consistently reflected in cohort studies assessing the relationship between total fat intake and later measures of body fatness or change in body fatness in studies of children, young people or adults.

Read the full abstract...

In order to prevent overweight and obesity in the general population we need to understand the relationship between the proportion of energy from fat and resulting weight and body fatness in the general population.


To assess the effects of proportion of energy intake from fat on measures of weight and body fatness (including obesity, waist circumference and body mass index) in people not aiming to lose weight, using all appropriate randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort studies in adults, children and young people

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL to March 2014 and MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL to November 2014. We did not limit the search by language. We also checked the references of relevant reviews.

Selection criteria: 

Trials fulfilled the following criteria: 1) randomised intervention trial, 2) included children (aged ≥ 24 months), young people or adults, 3) randomised to a lower fat versus usual or moderate fat diet, without the intention to reduce weight in any participants, 4) not multifactorial and 5) assessed a measure of weight or body fatness after at least six months. We also included cohort studies in children, young people and adults that assessed the proportion of energy from fat at baseline and assessed the relationship with body weight or fatness after at least one year. We duplicated inclusion decisions and resolved disagreement by discussion or referral to a third party.

Data collection and analysis: 

We extracted data on the population, intervention, control and outcome measures in duplicate. We extracted measures of weight and body fatness independently in duplicate at all available time points. We performed random-effects meta-analyses, meta-regression, subgrouping, sensitivity and funnel plot analyses.

Main results: 

We included 32 RCTs (approximately 54,000 participants) and data from 25 cohorts. There is consistent evidence from RCTs in adults of a small weight-reducing effect of eating a smaller proportion of energy from fat; this was seen in almost all included studies and was highly resistant to sensitivity analyses. The effect of eating less fat (compared with usual diet) is a mean weight reduction of 1.5 kg (95% confidence interval (CI) -2.0 to -1.1 kg), but greater weight loss results from greater fat reductions. The size of the effect on weight does not alter over time and is mirrored by reductions in body mass index (BMI) (-0.5 kg/m2, 95% CI -0.7 to -0.3) and waist circumference (-0.3 cm, 95% CI -0.6 to -0.02). Included cohort studies in children and adults most often do not suggest any relationship between total fat intake and later measures of weight, body fatness or change in body fatness. However, there was a suggestion that lower fat intake was associated with smaller increases in weight in middle-aged but not elderly adults, and in change in BMI in the highest validity child cohort.