How Effective Are Peer-Support Lifestyle Interventions?

Humans are social beings and supporting each other in challenging endeavours is often the best path to success.

Thus, one would imagine that peer support would be one of the key elements that can help nudge, motivate, encourage and ultimately steer someone towards their goals. 

Not surprisingly, peer support groups are often mentioned and recommended in the context of weight management and lifestyle change. 

But how effective are such groups in actually helping people change their lifestyles and support relevant outcomes (e.g. weight loss)?

This is the topic of a systematic review and meta-analysis by Lim Siew and colleagues from Monash University, Victoria, Australia, published in Obesity Reviews.

The researchers examined data from 65 studies, including over 15,000 participants,  looking at the effectiveness of peer intervention in changing body weight, energy intake, and physical activity in adults.

While statistically significant, the overall effects on these parameters were rather minimal – about 1 kg decrease in body weight, an 0.75 cm reduction in waist circumference, and a minute effect on physical activity with no change in energy intake. 

Interestingly, adding a health professional to the group appears to have little influence on the outcomes. 

As one may expect, there was considerable heterogeneity between studies and given the nature of peer-support groups, it was virtually impossible to pinpoint the source of variations in outcomes.

Thus, while peer-support groups may well provide other benefits to participants, as in social contact and support, they are hardly a reliable means of promoting lifestyle change. 

This should not discourage anyone from participating in such groups if they happen to find them helpful – however, there does not appear to be any pressing argument to join such a group if peer-groups are not your thing. . 

Berlin, D