During the eight weeks of the study, participants were told to follow a restrictive diet, but not a weight-loss diet. They were not supposed to increase their exercise.
Those who received five-point acupuncture had needles placed 2 millimeters deep in one outer ear taped in place and kept there for a week. Then the same treatment was applied to the other ear. The process was repeated over eight weeks.
Other patients received similar treatment with one needle or with sham acupuncture where the needles were removed immediately after insertion.
Over the course of the study, 24 patients dropped out, 15 of whom were receiving sham treatment, the researchers noted.
Among those who completed the study, there were significant differences in weight loss among the groups. At four weeks, those receiving five-point treatment had an average reduction in weight of 6.1 percent, compared with a 5.7 percent reduction among those treated with one needle and no weight loss among those receiving sham therapy, the researchers found.
The largest drop was seen in waist size with the five-point treatment, compared with sham therapy; however, this difference disappeared after taking age into account, the investigators noted.
Percentage of body fat also dropped, but only in those receiving the five-point treatment, the study authors added.
"Both five- and one-point approaches showed significant effects on treating the obese patients and notable reduction in the values closely related to obesity, such as waist circumference measurements and weight, compared to the sham group," Lim said.
"But yet, the five-point approach caused the largest decrease in waist circumference, indicating that the method should be considered as a primary treatment to reduce central obesity, rather than the hunger acupuncture point or temporary stimulation of the five acupuncture points," she pointed out.
According to the Acupuncturecost.org, treatments range in cost from $75 to $125 and are covered by some, but not all insurance companies.