Go Ahead, Get High: The Surprising Factor That May Cause Weight Loss

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If you're one of the many starting your slim down for summer, consider packing your bags and calling the movers. Living in a higher altitude could keep you from gaining weight, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS.

Researchers looked at the records of 98,000 overweight active military personnel over a six-year period, comparing living on bases at high altitude versus low altitude. After adjusting for BMI at enlistment, sex, race, age, and other factors, they found that people serving at high altitudes had a 41 percent lower risk of progressing to obesity than those serving at low altitudes.

"These results suggest that moving to high altitude would protect an overweight person from moving to obesity," says lead author Jameson D. Voss, M.D., M.P.H., a consultant with the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

The findings made me think of previous data from Gallup that suggested that Boulder, CO, is the "thinnest city in the U.S." I always thought the reason that people appeared to be thinner in Colorado is that they are very active compared to other U.S. cities and might simply have healthier lifestyles.

It seems the researchers agree on this to some extent, since they note that the assignment process for service members is not entirely random and it is possible that those with a healthier lifestyle to begin with may have been more likely to request assignment at high altitude. Unfortunately there is no data available on this. Another consideration is that perhaps no one gained weight because of the environment in the military, and it is unclear to me how much the researchers took this into consideration.

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However, according to the researchers, perhaps leptin and other hormones involved in appetite control could be the reason some military personnel didn’t gain weight. It appears that these hormones rise at high altitudes, and when your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you’re full, so you’ll stop eating. Interesting enough, though, previous research has also shown that some people can become leptin-resistant and that no amount of leptin would make a difference.

So before you Google what it would be like to live in Divide, CO (city with highest altitude in the U.S. of 9,165 feet), or decide to sign up for the military, you might wait until more research is conducted.