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Support from group leaders and peers crucial to successful weight loss

20 October 2016

Weight loss group

New research from the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI Centre) reveals that when attending a weight loss group, having a supportive relationship with the leader and sharing experiences with peers may be key to successful weight loss. 

Researchers carried out a systematic review of research on weight management programmes for people classified as overweight or obese, examining what factors contributed to successful weight loss.

Firstly, they examined studies from the UK in which individuals were interviewed and asked what aspects of programmes they felt helped them to lose weight. Participants in these studies described how motivation to commit to weight loss and turn up to groups was higher when they could trust and relate to those running sessions. The support of others attempting to lose weight was equally important.

The researchers then used these findings to examine studies in which weight-loss programmes were rigorously tested. The aim was to see whether the views expressed explained why some of these tested programmes were more successful at helping people to lose weight than others. The most successful programmes were found to match the views expressed, whilst the least successful programmes did not. Three factors were found to be crucial; good quality relationships with programme leaders, high level of support and direction from leaders, and support from others on the programme.

Lead researcher Dr Katy Sutcliffe said:

"People don't have the confidence to start making changes to diet and exercise by themselves. They are more successful when they have someone to help start them off on the journey. People describe a positive sense of accountability to those individuals which helps them make changes in the short-term. Once they start to make changes they gain confidence, and begin to lose weight and feel better, this gives them the motivation to continue these measures by themselves."

Comments from participants on the support of group leaders included "You feel that somebody's batting for you", and on the benefit of feeling accountable to peers in the group they described how they didn't want to "let the team down."

Exercise sessions, as part of a weight loss programme, were found to be key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the longer term. These sessions enable participants to gain confidence and discover they can enjoy exercise so that they want to continue to exercise outside of the programme. Programmes were also found to work best when participants are started off on an intensive programme progressing to a 'graduated exit', so they eventually become self-sufficient in managing their routines.

Senior researcher Professor James Thomas, said: "The study was unique as previous research on weight loss programmes has concentrated on aspects of diet and exercise regimes, but not on the experiences of the individuals who have followed them - which have tended to be seen as peripheral or not relevant. Our research shows that weight loss is most likely to be successful when supportive and positive relationships are in place."

Following the analysis, the findings of the study were shared with those involved in local authority weight management programmes so that they may be used to inform future initiatives.

The study was funded by the Department of Health and supported by Public Health England. The full report, 'What are the critical features of successful Tier 2 weight management programmes?: A systematic review to identify the programme characteristics, and combinations of characteristics, that are associated with successful weight loss', by Sutcliffe K, Richardson M, Rees R, Melendez-Torres GJ, Stansfield C, Thomas J, is published on Thursday 20 October - for a copy please contact UCL Media Relations.

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James Russell

Tel: +44 (0)203 108 8516
Email: james.russell@ucl.ac.uk