Weight Loss Is Easier When You Have A Friend
October 10, 2012

Success Found In Weight Loss Programs Led By Peers Or Health Professionals

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Researchers studied the effectiveness of commercial weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers and found that they may be as successful in helping participants lose weight as clinical programs; the key to doing well in the program was partnering up with someone else who could provide support.

In a report by US News, the study was described as being conducted over a period of 48 weeks. The study included 141 overweight and obese adults who were randomly placed into three different groups. One group participated in a weight-loss program with a health expert (i.e. a program such as Weight Watchers), another group was led by peers who had lost weight on their own, and the third group was a mix of the two programs. The researchers saw that the individuals lost a significant amount of weight due to change in diet, increase in physical activity, as well as counseling with a health professional or a peer group. The findings of the study were recently published in the journal Obesity.

“When people who are working on a similar problem get together, they can support each other so they don´t feel alone in this weight-loss journey,” explained the study´s lead researcher Angela Pinto, an assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College of the City University of New York, in a story featured on the university´s website.

According to ABC News, the people in the peer-based program lost about the same amount of weight (around 12 pounds), but over double the number of people who were enrolled in the Weight Watchers program were successful in losing at least 10 percent of their starting weight as compared to participants in the two other programs. The average weight lost in Weight Watchers was 13 pounds, while the mixed program showed that participants lost about 8 pounds. As such, the researchers believe that Weight Watchers can help individuals lose a significant amount of weight.

The study is the first to look at the differences between a commercial weight loss program and a clinical weight loss program.

“We selected Weight Watchers because the philosophy was similar to professionally delivered programs in medical center settings,” Pinto told WebMD. “They both encourage weight loss through balanced lifestyle change, dietary changes such as consuming a diet high in whole foods and lower in fats, and encourage physical activity,”

The researchers found that the people who stuck with one of the programs over a long duration had the most success in losing weight.

“With the group idea, there´s a sense of belonging,” remarked Pinto in the ABC News article on the effectiveness of having a partner in the journey to losing weight. “That´s important for people to think about when they want to know what can facilitate sustained weight loss.”

Other health experts believe that the group environment is extremely conducive and can help participants stay with the program up until the very end.

“After a certain point, the ℠education process´ of weight loss becomes almost secondary to the staying motivated,” Keith Ayoob, the director of a nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told ABC News.

In particular, these types of programs are thought to be more helpful for women than men. Others may find it more useful to obtain individual counseling rather than participating in a group program.

“Some people really need additional psychotherapy to ℠unlock the blocks´ to successful weight management,” continued Ayoob in the ABC News article.

The scientists concluded that the study´s findings might open new avenues for affordable weight loss programs.

“I think this is a sign that we have learned from these weight loss programs led by a health professional,” remarked Rebecca Krukowski, an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, to WebMD reporter Jennifer Warner. “Now we know that they can be disseminated by trained, lay health educators, including in commercial programs.”

Krukowski noted that programs with peers or health educators were successful in that leaders had similarities with the participants and were aware of important issues in the community. As well, commercial programs provided flexibility in the location and times of meetings in order to boost maximum attendance.

Even though the research project was successful in its endeavor, it did not show if the weight loss was long-term as the researchers did not follow the group a year after the program ended.

“Weight-loss maintenance is a big challenge and clearly has an impact on health parameters,” concluded Pinto in the ABC News article. “We know that clinically important weight loss, between 5 to 10 percent, can positively affect health.”