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Little scientific support for weight loss programs


There is little evidence to support the use of many commercial weight loss programs, according to a study in the US, which suggests that the search for new, more effective methods will continue to preoccupy dieters.

The study, published in the 1 January issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined the evidence for the major commercial and organized self-help weight loss programs in the United States that provide in-person or online counseling.

It only included programs supported by randomized trials of at least 12 weeks long that included a follow-up evaluation lasting at least one year. These were, Health Management Resources, Take Off Pounds Sensibly, OPTIFAST, and Weight Watchers.

"Of three randomized, controlled trials of Weight Watchers, the largest reported a loss of 3.2 per cent of initial weight at two years," write authors Adam Gilden Tsai and Thomas A. Wadden from the University of Pennsylvania.

Research on very-low-calorie diet programs showed patients who completed treatment lost approximately 15-25 per cent of initial weight but these were associated with high costs, high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50 per cent or more of lost weight in one to two years.

Commercial interventions available over the Internet and organized self-help programs produced minimal weight loss, added the authors.

"Because many studies did not control for high attrition rates, the reported results are probably a best-case scenario."

"With the exception of one trial of Weight Watchers, the evidence to support the use of the major commercial and self-help weight loss programs is suboptimal. Controlled trials are needed to assess the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these interventions," they concluded.

More than 1 billion adults are overweight in the world, with at least 300 million of them clinically obese.

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