- If you’re looking to lose weight, virtual coaching could be just as effective as in-person sessions with medical staff, according to a new study.
- Recent research found that a specially-designed weight loss app with coaching helped participants lose an average of 11-13 pounds in 6 months.
- Programs like this could make weight loss cheaper and more accessible to people who need it most, the lead researcher said.
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Losing weight, even when there’s not a global pandemic, can be a daunting task.
Within the current healthcare system, high-quality, medically-supported weight loss services can be time-consuming and expensive, requiring numerous doctor’s visits and other onerous interventions, according to Bonnie Spring, chief of behavioural medicine in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University.
In response to this concern, Spring and her team have developed a new weight-loss program that’s entirely virtual. And new research, published July 14 in the journal Obesity, suggests its just as effective as more intensive and high-cost programs.
Participants in the new virtual program lost an average of 11-13 pounds in 6 months
In the study, Spring and her team looked at 562 overweight and obese adults in the Chicago area. Over the course of 12 months, they received personalised diet and exercise recommendations as part of Northwestern’s Opt-IN program (an acronym for Optimisation of Remotely Delivered Intensive Lifestyle Treatment for Obesity).
The program utilises an app to help participants monitor their daily calorie and fat intake by entering the foods they consume into their smart phone, and monitored their daily minutes of exercise to meet their goals.
Every other week, participants would consult with a designated health coach who would provide feedback on their progress in a total of 12 sessions throughout the program.
The study found that participants lost, on average, 11-13 pounds at the end of the 6 month program. More than half the participants lost 7% of their initial body weight.
Support and accountability, not more coaching sessions, led to the best results
Although there are many forms of weight loss apps, Spring told Insider that the Opt-IN program is unique in that the app sends data directly to the participant’s health coach, helping keeping them accountable to their goals.
“We know that just using an app has some benefit if it’s not connected to a human but it’s not the most potent,” Spring said. “The secret sauce is that you’re transmitting your data to a coach. This has two advantages – there’s somebody to keep you accountable, and when you talk to the coach, the feedback you get will be highly personalised.”
The researchers looked at various set-ups. To their surprise, researchers found that meeting every week with a coach – instead of every other week – did not actually lead to a better weight loss outcome.
“The fact that there’s no advantage for double the coaching time shocked us,” Spring said. “And fewer sessions is also cheaper, since paying for the human coaches is the big ticket expense item.”
The results suggested that 12 coaching sessions was enough to have the desired effect.
“Coaching helps build people’s self-confidence and skills at regulating themselves,” Spring said, and the 24 sessions didn’t appear to offer any benefits for that.
It was particularly effective when clients were paired with a friend or family member.
“What worked is to make your environment more supportive: participants enter the program with a support buddy that we train on how to help you stick to the diet, cheerlead you, offer emotional support when you need it,” Spring said.
The program is a fraction of the cost of current in
dustry standards, and doesn’t require travel or appointments
Currently, the gold standard for weight loss is the National Diabetes Prevention program, which costs $US1,500, requires a year long commitment with multiple time-consuming doctors’ visits.
As a result, the DPP is available to just 4% of the population who could benefit from it, according to research.
In contrast, the Opt-IN program cost between $US324 and $US427, depending on the types of intervention, is completely virtual, meaning participants don’t to worry about access to transportation, child care, time off work, or other barriers to in-person appointments.
“Life is busy and we need to be offering care that’s accessible to people, whether it’s COVID or not,” Spring said. “If there’s one upside to this situation, it’s shown how much we can do by telehealth. We really can do so much more than we thought was possible.”
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