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Lifestyle Changes Help Obese Lose Weight

Studies Show Diet, Activity, or Weight Loss Programs Can Help Severely Obese People Shed Pounds

Commercial Weight Loss Programs

In the second study, Rock randomly assigned 442 women who were overweight or obese to one of three groups:

  • A group of 167 women was enrolled in a center-based commercial weight loss program.
  • A second group of 164 women was assigned to a telephone-based commercial weight loss program.
  • A third group with 111 women was assigned to a ''usual care" group which served as a comparison group.

Those in the comparison group received a consultation with a dietary professional who gave them diet and activity guidelines and meal plans. They had a one-hour educational session, then a monthly check-in by email or phone.

The others were given prepackaged foods free of charge plus all the features of the program, and $25 for each clinic visit. The program studied was the Jenny Craig program. Rock served on the advisory board for Jenny Craig from 2003-2004 but was not on the board when the study began. Jenny Craig supported the study, and University of California, San Diego funded it as a clinical trial.

The women's average age was about 44. BMIs ranged from 25 (barely overweight) to 40 (severely obese).

At 24 months, the study showed:

  • Women in the center-based program lost 16 pounds.
  • Women in the telephone-based program lost 14 pounds.
  • Women in the usual care group lost 4.5 pounds.

"The telephone and the center group had no [substantial] difference in weight loss," Rock tells WebMD.

After 24 months, both groups in the commercial program had lost about 7% of their initial weight, she says. "They clearly learned behavior and strategies. Something stuck."

The commercial plan won out, Rock suspects, due to many of its components. "Structured meal plans are helpful for people," she says, as they take the guesswork out of how much people are supposed to cut back.

The personal contact is also useful, she says. Participants could address barriers to weight loss -- such as how to eat out and stay with the plan -- as they came up and get guidance. 

''If you change your lifestyle not in an extreme way or risky way you can lose weight and keep it off for at least two years," Rock says.

'Best-Case Scenario'

''This shows some good hope," says dietitian Eileen Myers, RD, of the new findings. For doctors, the message is not to decide on an obesity treatment just based on the BMI, she says.

The personal contacts and frequency of contact with the program administrators are probably key, she says.

In an editorial accompanying the new research, Rena R. Wing, PhD, a long-time weight control researcher at Brown University, writes that the findings on the Jenny Craig program ''probably represent a best-case scenario"  because of factors such as free food.

Even so, she suggests such weight loss programs need more research and that providing them free of charge might be ''a worthwhile health care investment."

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