Keeping the Weight Off

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A new study has highlighted some methods that can help people who have lost weight keep the pounds off over the long term. In the longest and largest study of this nature yet published, researchers found that person-to-person interaction with a weight-loss professional worked best, and that using an interactive Web site also helped people keep weight off over a period of two years.

There were 1,032 participants in the Weight Loss Maintenance (WLM) study, the results of which were published in the March 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The participants were all overweight or obese and had either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both. Two groups that are often underrepresented in weight loss studies—African-Americans and men—were purposely included in this study: Almost 40% of participants were African-American and more than one-third were men.

The participants lost at least 8.8 pounds over six months in the first phase of the study, with an average weight loss of about 19 pounds. This phase consisted of weekly group meetings led by a trained weight-loss professional, who helped participants learn to increase their physical activity, consume fewer calories, and adopt the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which can help lower blood pressure.

After six months, the participants were then randomly assigned to one of three weight-loss maintenance groups: a “self-directed” group, which received little intervention (the control group); an interactive-technology–based group, in which members logged on to an interactive Web site as often as they liked and used it to monitor their eating and exercise and set personal goals; and a personal-contact group, in which members spoke on the phone with a weight-loss professional each month and had in-person sessions three times a year.

Both the interactive-technology–based group and the personal-contact group interventions were designed to provide motivation, support, problem solving, and relapse prevention by offering features such as continued contact, motivational interviewing, self-monitoring, and accountability.

While all three groups regained some of the weight they had lost during the first six months of the study, the people in the personal-contact group were able to keep off more weight than those in the other two groups over the long term. After two years, both the personal-contact group and the interactive-technology–based group kept off significantly more weight than the self-directed group. However, after two and a half years, only members of the personal-contact group kept off significantly more weight (an average of 3.3 pounds) than the self-directed group. This may sound like a small difference, but the researchers point out that even modest weight loss can improve a person’s cardiovascular risk factors.

The researchers concluded that the human connection provided to the personal-contact group seemed to make a difference in helping people maintain their weight loss. They also pointed out that the Web-based intervention provided early benefits, which lasted longer in this study than in previous smaller studies. In conclusion, they stated that both of these methods have potential and deserve further study.

What have your experiences been with losing weight and keeping it off? Have you found any in-person or Web-based programs to be helpful? Share your experience (through a little interactive technology!) by leaving a comment below.

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