Losing weight with behavioural interventions in the context of a clinical trial, where you are often dealing with volunteers who are generally provided interventions that are far better structured and standardised than we can ever hope to deliver in a primary care settings, tells us little about the effectiveness of such interventions in real life.
Now a paper by Tom Wadden and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, published in JAMA, presents a systematic review of the behavioral treatment of obesity in patients encountered in primary care settings as delivered by primary care practitioners working alone or with trained interventionists (eg, medical assistants, registered dietitians), or by trained interventionists working independently..
A search of the literature yielded 12 trials, involving 3893 participants, that met inclusion-exclusion criteria and prespecified quality ratings.
At 6-months weight changes in the intervention groups ranged from a loss of 0.3 kg to 6.6 kg compared to a gain of 0.9 kg to a loss of 2.0 kg in the control group.
As one may expect, interventions that prescribed both reduced energy intake (eg, ≥ 500 kcal/d) and increased physical activity (eg, ≥150 minutes a week of walking), with traditional behavioral therapy, generally produced larger weight loss than interventions without all three specific components.
Also, more treatment sessions (in person or by telephone) were associated with greater mean weight loss and likelihood of patients losing 5% or more of baseline weight.
Unfortunately, overtime, weight loss in both groups declined with longer follow-up (12-24 months).
Thus, the authors conclude that,
“Intensive behavioral counseling can induce clinically meaningful weight loss, but there is little research on primary care practitioners providing such care. The present findings suggest that a range of trained interventionists, who deliver counseling in person or by telephone, could be considered for treating overweight or obesity in patients encountered in primary care settings.”
Whether any of this is worth the cost and effort was not discussed. My guess is that to see greater success in primary care we need better treatments that move well beyond the rather simplistic ‘eat-less move-more’ paradigm.