Issue: November 2010
November 01, 2010
2 min read

Weight-loss program with free prepared meals effectively promoted weight loss

Issue: November 2010
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Obesity 2010

Women who followed an incentivized weight-loss program that provided free prepared meals lost more weight during a 2-year period compared with women who received only weight-loss counseling, according to data presented at Obesity 2010.

Cheryl L. Rock, PhD, RD, of the University of California, San Diego, Moores Cancer Center, and colleagues conducted a study to assess whether a commercialized weight-loss program that included prepared meals led to greater weight loss and weight maintenance.

“Given the magnitude of [overweight and obesity], clinical and public health guidelines recommend screening and prescribing treatment programs for those who are already overweight or obese,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was simultaneously published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Although commercial weight loss programs are popular, there is a paucity of scientific evidence on which to judge their efficacy.”

The 442 participants were randomly assigned to three groups: in-person, center-based intervention with prepared meals; phone-based intervention with prepared meals; or usual care, including two counseling sessions and monthly contacts.

At 24 months, women in the center-based intervention group maintained an average weight loss of 7.4 kg. In the phone-based intervention group, the average maintained weight loss was 6.2 kg. Women in the usual care group had an average maintained weight loss of 2 kg. By the study end, 62% of the center-based intervention group and 56% of the phone-based intervention group had a 5% weight loss vs. 29% in the usual care group. In the intervention groups, 37% had a weight loss of 10% or more vs. 16% in the usual care group.

In an accompanying editorial, Rena R. Wing, PhD, director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., wrote that prior studies have shown that providing participants with food or meal replacements increases the amount of weight loss. However, she said it is unlikely that an obese individual would achieve results similar to those in this study because they would be required to purchase the food, whereas the food was provided for free to those in the study.

“These findings raise the possibility that if structured commercial weight-loss programs could be provided free of charge to participants, both retention and average weight-loss outcomes might be far better,” Wing, also professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, wrote in the editorial. “Currently, insurance companies … do not cover the cost of commercial weight-loss programs. Providing commercial weight-loss programs free of charge to participants might be a worthwhile health care investment.”

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