In a nation with over 160,000 fast food chains, 24-hour drive-thrus, and saturated fat-laden foods, it can be a never-ending struggle to avoid the temptation of fatty foods and lose weight. With weight-loss supplements, fad diets, and fat-burning doodads, people will drop the pounds temporarily but gain the weight back.

However, there may be a simpler and much healthier way to keep the fat off for good. According to a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE, getting high — living in high altitudes, that is — can suppress hunger by increasing leptin and other hormones involved in appetite control, curbing obesity risk by nearly half.

Losing weight by merely heading for the hills may hold some truth. Altitude could be more of a friend than a foe when it comes to dropping the pounds. Typically, people who reside in high altitudes — above sea level — are known to be healthy and thin. In a Gallup poll, Boulder, Colo. (elevation of 5,430 ft.) was found to be the thinnest city in the U.S. Meanwhile Huntington, W.Va. (elevation of 564 ft.) was found to be the fattest city. This suggests Americans who live at sea-level are more likely to be obese than those who live in high altitude communities.

In the most recent study, a team of American researchers sought to investigate whether long-term residence at high altitude actually confers benefits in humans when it comes to losing weight. The study analyzed about 100,000 U.S. Army and Air Force servicemen and women, all with at least two years of service, from January 2006 to December 2012. During that time period, they moved between assignments at high altitude (1.2 miles above sea level or higher) and low altitude (0.6 miles or lower). All the participants had an overweight but not obese body mass index (BMI) equal to or less than 25, but no greater than 30.

The findings revealed overweight people serving at high altitudes had a 41 percent lower risk of progressing to obesity than those serving at low altitudes. This led the researchers to suggest high altitude residence predicts lower rates of new obesity diagnoses among overweight service members in the U.S. Army and Air Force.

“These results suggest that moving to high altitude would protect an overweight person from moving to obesity,” said, Dr. Jameson D. Voss, lead author of the study and a consultant with the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, to The New York Times. The researchers speculate leptin and other hormones that are involved in appetite control rise at high altitudes, which may help explain the finding. However, this warrants further research.

In a similar study, a team of researchers found that even if you don’t live in a high-altitude area, simply going to one could lead to weight loss. A group of 20 obese and sedentary men were brought to an elevation of 8,700 ft. and were permitted to eat as much as they wanted but were not allowed to do any exercise except for strolling. After a single week, they lost an average of more than 3 lbs. When they returned back to their low altitude communities, the men maintained an average weight loss of 2 lbs., suggesting the impact of high altitudes on the body’s hormones.

With more than two-thirds of U.S. adults either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it may be time to climb that mountain or relocate, for your health’s sake.

 

Sources: 

Allison DB, Clark LL, Otto JL, Voss JD, Webber BJ. Lower Obesity Rate during Residence at High Altitude among a Military Population with Frequent Migration: A Quasi Experimental Model for Investigating Spatial Causation. PLoS ONE. 2014.

Fischer R, Lichter N, Lippi FJ, et al. Hypobaric Hypoxia Causes Body Weight Reduction in Obese Subjects. Obesity. 2010.