Do Do-It-Yourself Interventions For Obesity Work?Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Given that most people do not look at obesity as a chronic disease that requires professional management, the most common approach to losing weight is still for people to try to lose weight on their own.
But just how effective are these do-it-yourself approaches to weight management?
This is the topic of a systematic review and meta-analysis by Jamie Hartmann-Boyce and colleagues from Oxford University, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Self-help programs were defined as self-directed interventions that do not require professional input to deliver (“self-help”) across a variety of formats, including but not limited to print, Internet, and mobile phone-delivered programs.
As such programs come in all shapes and sizes, the researchers also distinguished between “tailored” interventions as those in which participant characteristics were used to provide individualized content (e.g., tailored based on information provided by participants at baseline), and “interactive” interventions as those programs in which participants could actively engage with intervention content (e.g., through online quizzes or entering their own content).
For each intervention, the authors also coded the specific type of self-managment strategies ranging from goal setting to buddy systems.
The researchers found 23 randomized controlled trials comparing self-help interventions with each other or with minimal controls in overweight and obese adults, with 6 months or longer follow-up. Together these studies included almost 10,000 participants in 39 intervention arms.
Although the researchers noted considerable heterogeneity among studies, the average difference in weight loss at 6 months between the self-management and control groups was about 2 Kg, an effect that was no longer significant at 12 months.
Overall the type of program (tailored vs. non-tailored, interactive vs. non-interactive, etc.) did not make any notable difference to the success of participants.
The authors also noted that the only trial that examined a potential interaction with socioeconomic status found that the intervention was more effective for more advantaged populations.
Despite these rather sobering results, the authors come to the rather astonishing conclusion that,
“Results from this review show promising evidence of the effectiveness of self-help interventions for weight loss.”
“Public health practitioners and policymakers should look to implement self-help interventions as a component of obesity intervention strategies because of the high reach and potentially low cost of these programs.”
How exactly, the authors would come to these recommendations is unclear – my view would be that this could be a rather substantial waste of public health funding that could probably be put to much better use.
Based on this paper (despite the enthusiastic conclusions of the authors), my conclusion would be that the vast majority of current self-management programs are probably not worth the time or effort.
This is not to say that self-management does not have an important role in obesity management – it certainly does, but evidently needs to occur under professional guidance.
So, if you do have a medically relevant weight problem – get professional help!
Hartmann-Boyce J, Jebb SA, Fletcher BR, & Aveyard P (2015). Self-Help for Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American journal of public health PMID: 25602873