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Doctor knows best: Research shows doctor-led advice on weight management is effective

A female doctor with a stethoscope round her neck talks with a male patient

Doctor-led advice on weight management results in effective weight loss and a reduction in waist circumference for people with obesity, new research from Loughborough University has found.

Only recently, Cancer Research UK released a report that showed the number of people living with obesity will outweigh the number with a healthy weight by 2040. This shows that we need to support people to lose weight by offering effective services.

The research, carried out in partnership with the Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and looks at the results of 27 trials that included 8,000 participants, with 4,149 taking part in weight management interventions and 3,851 not. Weight change for all participants was recorded at a 12-month follow-up.

The delivery of the weight management interventions varied from face-to-face advice, telephone consultations and online support. Four trials were delivered by nurses, four by GPs and eight by non-medical practitioners. Fourteen trials either had a combination or a mixture of practitioners delivering the intervention depending on local service availability.

The key findings of the study are:

  • Weight management interventions delivered by primary care practitioners are effective and can help patients to better manage their weight
  • At least 12 contacts with a practitioner are needed to deliver effective weight management programmes in primary care
  • Those who received a weight loss programme lost over 2.3 kg more and improved their waist measurements by 2.5cm more than those who didn’t receive a weight loss programme
  • Evidence suggests that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners were as effective as those delivered by GPs – both showed significant and important weight loss

The research was led by Dr Claire Madigan from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB).

Speaking about the study, she said: “With the world facing an obesity crisis we need to find effective and affordable ways of supporting people in their weight loss journey.

“This study shows that doctor-led or supported advice is effective in helping people with obesity to lose weight over a 12-month period. Although the 2.3 kg weight loss in the intervention group may seem modest, just a 2-5% weight loss is associated with improvements in overall health.

“From a cost perspective, while we did not determine the costs of the programme, it is likely that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners would be cheaper than doctor and nurse-led programmes.

“Our research found that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners such as health coaches were as effective as those delivered by GPs.”

Effectiveness of weight management interventions for adults delivered in primary care: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials is published by the BMJ.