Weight-loss programs delivered over the phone by health coaches and with website and physician support are just as effective as others involving in-person coaching sessions, a new study has claimed.
Lawrence J. Appel and his team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health recruited 415 obese people with an average body mass index (BMI) of 36.6 and an average weight of 229 pounds.
Although the group was diverse, it predominantly consisted of middle-aged women.
The volunteers were randomly split into three groups – the control group received information about weight loss but did not receive counselling, another group received counselling over the phone with a coach, and a third group was offered in-person and phone counselling.
Those in the control group lost an average of less than two pounds over the course of two years, while those who had telephone sessions or in-person coaching lost a similar amount of weight, an average of 10 pounds over two years.
According to Appel, in-person programs are the standard, and such programs do lead to weight loss, but he was surprised to see that those who only had telephone contact with coaches did just as well as those who had in-person one-on-one and group sessions.
He said that as the study progressed, the in-person group opted to trade in the face-to-face sessions for the convenience of using the telephone.
“In most weight loss studies, there is a lot of emphasis on frequent, in-person counseling sessions, but from a logistical perspective, it’s a disaster,” Appel said.
“Patients start off strong but then stop attending in-person sessions. That’s why I like the telephone program. It is convenient to individuals and can be done anywhere. You could be living in rural South Dakota, and we could deliver this intervention. It removes some of the major logistical barriers,” he added.
The study has been recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.