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Telephone Counseling, In-Person Support Both Effective in Helping Women Avoid Regaining Weight

Nov. 24, 2008 -- A little support goes a long way. A new study shows that telephone counseling is as effective as in-person sessions in helping obese women keep pounds off and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The research team wanted to look at rural women, who often have fewer options and support and are usually farther away from medical and weight loss treatment centers than urban residents.

In background information presented with the findings, the researchers write that rural areas have higher obesity rates, more of a sedentary lifestyle, and higher rates of the chronic diseases that go hand-in-hand with obesity.

Researchers, led by Michael Perri, PhD, with the University of Florida in Gainesville got together 234 women from rural counties in northern Florida.

The women were 50 to 75 years old and obese, with an average weight of 212.5 pounds; they did not have uncontrollable hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases.

The group participated in a standard six-month lifestyle modification program that required eating less, exercising more, and a focus on goal setting and daily food monitoring. The women lost about 22 pounds on average.

For one year of follow-up, the women were divided into three groups.

One group received 15- to 20-minute telephone sessions biweekly from a counselor.

Another group got an hour in-person session every two weeks.

The third group received biweekly newsletters in the mail that provided diet and weight loss tips.

Researchers found that the two groups that got telephone counseling and face-to-face sessions regained less weight (2.6 pounds) than did the group that only got the newsletters (8.15 pounds).

And, telephone counseling was less expensive than the in-person sessions.

The researchers write that past studies in urban settings show that participants in weight loss and behavioral modification programs often wind up regaining a third to half of the weight lost in the year after the intervention.

Regaining weight can erode any gained health benefits.

The findings appear in the Nov. 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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