Many have seen ‘significant’ weight loss with the 12-week online program

August 2, 2022 – People lost a “clinically significant” percentage of their body weight 12 weeks after starting a fully automated online program developed by researchers at Brown University.

Primary care physicians offered the free obesity treatment program during routine care. Each week, people reported changes in weight and activity and calorie consumption; taking online courses; and received personalized feedback.

The 464 people who participated for at least 1 week lost an average of 5% of their body weight. And those who followed the plan every 12 weeks lost an average of 7%.

The researchers point out that this short-term weight loss was achieved without any face-to-face counseling, which can limit weight management in busy primary care settings.

“Obesity is a highly stigmatized condition,” says lead researcher J. Graham Thomas, PhD.

People participate in the Rx Weight Loss program in the privacy of their homes. He says this not only makes it more convenient, but could be a benefit for people who feel uncomfortable managing their weight around others.

Ideally, healthcare providers could offer the online program as an opportunity for patients “as opposed to something punitive,” says Thomas, a researcher at Miriam Hospital’s Center for Weight Control and Diabetes Research. in Providence, RI.

The study was published online July 27 in the journal Obesity.

In three previous controlled clinical trials conducted by the same research team, the weight loss program was linked to average weight losses of 4.2% to 5.8%. In the current study, the researchers were not directly involved, and Thomas says he was encouraged that the physician-led initiative led to similar results.

About 11 pounds lost

Patients were offered the program during routine care by physicians from the Rhode Island Primary Care Physicians Corporation, which includes 100 physicians at 60 sites. To be eligible, people had to be between the ages of 18 and 75, have internet access, be fluent in English and have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kilograms per square meter (kg/m2) or more.

The average age of the people taking part in the study was 53 years old, 70% were women and the average BMI was 36.2.

A BMI of 25 or more means you are overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.

The average 5.1% decrease in body weight at 12 weeks translated to just over 11 pounds of average weight loss.

“Very encouraging”

The study results are “very encouraging,” says Gareth R. Dutton, PhD, who was not affiliated with the study.

Previous strategies had limitations, he says.

“Fully automated interventions that have no staff contact with participants often achieve modest weight loss,” says Dutton, professor of medicine and researcher at the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Weight-loss programs recommended by primary care physicians have often yielded even worse results, he says.

“Weight loss interventions delivered through primary care are challenging due to many barriers, including limited resources and time,” says Dutton, who is also a principal investigator of a study which aims to recruit 400 primary care patients to compare daily self-weighing with standard care.

Letting doctors and their staff refer patients to an evidence-based weight loss program has great potential, he says.

Seek to improve adoption

The Rx Weight Loss program was offered to a total of 1,721 primary care patients.

When asked why only 26% of people who offered the program agreed to participate, Thomas replied, “No matter how good the program is, it’s never going to be a good time for a lot of people to add this to their life, especially given the past two years where people have encountered a lot of challenges and a lot of stressors.”

“Even though this is an online program, tackling obesity still involves making substantial changes to eating and activity habits,” he said.

Future steps

Investigators plan to find ways to get more people to participate in the program.

It’s not yet available for widespread use by others, but that’s the goal. Thomas said they learned during the study ways to make the fully automated online program easier for others to adopt.

Measuring any effect on weight loss at 1 year is the main objective of the study. “I think we expect to find something similar to what we see in previous studies, that some weight regain will be the norm” at 1 year, Thomas said.

“But some amount of weight loss and associated health benefits will persist, which is worth it even if, on average, a gradual recovery occurs.”

Karen O. Fielding