Losing weight, even in the absence of a global pandemic, can be a frustrating task.
Within today’s healthcare system, high-quality, physician-supported weight-loss services can be time-consuming and expensive, requiring numerous doctor visits and other stressful interventions, according to Bonnie Spring, chief of behavioral medicine in the Division of Preventive Medicine. Northwestern University, USA.
In response to this concern, Spring and his team have developed a new, completely virtual weight-loss program. The new research, published July 14 in the journal Obesity, suggests that it is just as effective as more expensive intensive programmes.
Users of the new virtual program lost an average of 5 to 6 kilos in 6 months
For the study, Spring and his team examined 562 overweight and obese adults in the Chicago area. Over the course of 12 months, they received diet and exercise recommendations as part of the Opt-IN (short for Improving Intensive Telemedicine Obesity Treatment) program from Northwestern University.
The program uses an app to help participants monitor their daily calorie and fat intake by entering the foods they eat on their smartphones and tracking daily exercise minutes to reach their goals.
Every two weeks, participants will be able to consult with a designated health coach who will provide feedback on their progress in a total of 12 sessions during the programme.
The study found that, on average, participants lost 12 to 15 pounds by the end of the 6-month program. More than half of the participants lost 7% of their initial body weight.
Support and accountability, not more training sessions, led to the best results.
While there are many variants of weight-loss apps, Spring told Insider that Opt-IN is unique in that the app sends data directly to the user’s health coach, helping them take charge of their goals.
“We know that just using an app has some benefits if it’s not connected to a human, but it’s not the strongest,” Spring said. “The secret sauce is that you send your data to a coach. There are two advantages to this — there is someone who holds you accountable, and when you talk to the coach, the information you receive is very personal.”
The researchers looked at different schemes. To their surprise, they found that meeting with a coach weekly instead of every other week? It didn’t really lead to a better weight loss result.
“The fact that there is no advantage to double the counseling time surprised us,” Spring said. “And fewer sessions are cheaper, too, because paying for personal trainers is such a big expense.”
The results indicated that 12 counseling sessions were sufficient to achieve the desired effect.
“Counseling helps build people’s confidence and self-control skills,” Spring said, and the 24 sessions didn’t seem to provide any benefit for that.
It was especially effective when clients were paired with a friend or family member.
“What works is making the environment more supportive: Participants join the program with a support partner who we coach on how to help them stick to their diet, encourage them, and give them emotional support when they need it,” Spring said.
The program costs much less than any other standard service and requires no travel or appointments.
Currently, the gold standard for weight loss is the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), which costs $1,500 (or roughly €1,300) and requires a one-year commitment to multiple, time-consuming medical visits.
As a result, DPP is only available to the 4% of the population who can benefit from it, according to the research.
In contrast, the Opt-IN program, which costs between $324 and $427 (or roughly €285 and €375), depending on the types of intervention, is completely virtual, meaning you don’t have to worry about access to transportation. Childcare, time away from work, or other barriers to personal appointments.
“Life is busy and we need to provide accessible care to people whether or not there is COVID-19,” Spring said. “If there’s an upside to this, it’s that it’s shown just how much we can do with telehealth. We can really do a lot more than we thought possible.”
With information from businessinsider.