Try group therapy if you want to lose weight
The current obesity epidemic has caused many Americans to search for new methods to successfully lose weight. It also has attracted the attention of researchers who are trying to determine which methods have the highest success rate. A randomized clinical trial led by Angela Marinilli Pinto, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Baruch College, evaluated three different group therapy protocols to determine which of the three was most effective for weight loss.
They published their findings on October 9 in the journal Obesity.
The researchers note that more than two thirds of adults in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. In view of the health impact of obesity, development of effective and accessible weight loss programs is an important objective. They explain that professionally delivered, group-based, face-to-face behavioral weight loss treatment (BWL) is considered the state-of-the-art approach for nonmedical treatment of moderate overweight and obesity. The most effective programs, which are typically conducted in academic medical centers in the context of research trials, achieve clinically significant weight losses of 10% of starting weight by teaching diet and exercise modification and emphasizing behavioral skills such as self-monitoring, stimulus control, and goal-setting. However, because these treatments are generally offered through research programs they have limited accessibility to the millions of Americans trying to lose weight; thus, they have limited impact on the obesity epidemic.
To address the concern regarding the limited availability of BWL, researchers have investigated various methods of dissemination such as delivering treatment via telephone, television, and the Internet (9, 10). They note that the results of these studies demonstrate that while media-based
alternatives to BWL can be implemented in different settings and modalities, average
weight losses are less than those obtained in face-to-face treatment; moreover, they are comparable to those achieved through commercial weight loss programs that reach the broader public.
The new study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that overweight and obese adults who participated in three different weight loss treatments, all involving intensive, multi-component counseling delivered in groups, lost significant weight after 48 weeks whether the treatment was led by a health professional or by someone who had previous weight loss success.
This researchers note that the randomized clinical trial is the first to compare professionally delivered group-based behavioral weight loss treatment, which is considered the “gold standard” for treating moderate overweight and obesity, to Weight Watchers, which is led by trained peer counselors who have achieved their own successful weight loss. They explain their findings open up the possibility of offering effective, affordable weight loss options to more Americans.
The study group comprised 141 overweight and obese men and women who were randomly assigned to:
- A 48 week course of behavioral weight loss treatment delivered by a healthcare professional.
- A 48 week course of Weight Watchers, where group support is led by Weight Watchers members who have successfully achieved and maintained a healthy goal weight.
- A combined treatment consisting of 12 weeks of behavioral weight loss treatment delivered by a healthcare professional followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers.
The investigators explain that Weight Watchers was chosen because it is the largest commercial program in the United States; furthermore, it is behaviorally oriented and focuses on modifying diet and increasing physical activity to produce weight loss. The investigators hypothesized that the combined treatment would produce better weight losses than Weight Watchers alone. Assessments were conducted at baseline and weeks 12, 24, and 48, with weight change as the primary outcome.
The researchers found that weight loss occurred in all three groups; however, contrary to expectations, Weight Watchers participants lost more weight, on average, at the end of treatment compared to participants in the combination approach (average weight loss in the professionally led program was not significantly different from either group). In fact, more than 1/3 of the Weight Watchers participants lost 10% or more of their starting weight, compared to 15% in the combined group, and 11% in the professionally-led group. The investigators also found that better meeting attendance was associated with greater weight losses during the first 24 weeks in all treatments. In the Weight Watchers group, this relationship was maintained even in the second half of treatment, suggesting that individuals who continue to stay involved in the Weight Watchers program do better.
“This study is important because, with almost 70% of American adults classified as overweight or obese, there is a need to provide practical treatment solutions that are effective, accessible, and affordable,” Dr. Pinto explained. She added, “Results of this study demonstrate that the Weight Watchers program can produce clinically meaningful weight losses.” The cost of joining Weight Watchers is approximately $10 per week, which includes member registration, weekly meetings, and access to online resources.