Meal Replacements Promote Weight Loss When Supervised

Weight loss with meal replacement

Individuals may lose a significant amount of weight if they follow a medically supervised program that includes the use of meal replacements. This may be good news for the estimated 66 percent of adults in the United States who are either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The meal replacements used in the study are products of Health management Resources Corporation, a privately owned national health care company that specializes in weight loss and weight management. Results of the study, which were significant, may prompt other medically supervised weight loss programs and meal replacement plans to reevaluate their programs for the general public.

In the current study, which was conducted at the University of Kentucky and published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the researchers offered two treatment options to a group of obese patients who were enrolled in an intensive behavioural weight loss program. Those in the Medically Supervised group consumed meal replacements only, which could consist of five shakes daily or three shakes and two entrees. For those in the Healthy Solutions group, the recommendation was to consume at least three shakes, two entrees, and five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.


Average weight loss by patients in the Medically Supervised group was 43.4 pounds in 19 weeks (about 2.2 lb per week), while those in the Healthy Solutions group lost an average of 37.5 pounds in 18 weeks (about 2.1 lb per week). The study’s authors also noted that the support of a structured program increases the possibility of successful weight loss.

According to the study’s co-author, Dr. James W. Anderson, professor emeritus of internal medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, 5 to 10 percent loss of initial body weight is considered the gold standard in the medical arena. A general consensus in the health community is that among obese individuals, losing even 5 to 10 percent of body weight can delay or prevent serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and some types of cancer. In their study, the Medically Supervised group lost 16.4 percent and the Healthy Solutions group lost 15.8 percent, well above the standard.

Previous studies have shown that meal replacement programs can help people lose weight and maintain the weight loss. For example, in the March 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, there is a report of a year-long study of 64 overweight women who had failed at losing weight by changing their eating habits. Half the women ate a standard 1,200 calorie diet while the other half used a meal replacement shake three times daily and ate fruits and vegetables to total 1,200 calories daily. Although both groups of women lost weight initially, only those in the meal replacement group maintained that loss after one year.

The use of meal replacements to facilitate a weight loss program appears to be effective. The amount of weight lost in both groups of obese patients in this study was similar, and the presence of a structured support program seems to increase patient compliance, accountability, and commitment. (Note: Dr. Anderson receives salary support and research funding from Health Management Resources.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Furlow EA, Anderson JW. J Am Diet Assoc 2009 Aug; 109(8): 1417-21
Rothacker DQ et al. J Am Diet Assoc 2001 Mar; 101(3): 345-47
University of Kentucky College of Medicine