Loughborough University: Weight loss advice from GPs really can help people slim down and stay that way – new research

But the best person to help you lose weight may actually be your family doctor, as our recent review showed. We found that weight loss programmes delivered by general practitioners (GPs) and their teams can help people lose weight and reduce their waist size. We also found that people were able to maintain their weight loss even after two years.

To conduct our review, we looked at 27 studies with data from 8,000 people. There was a lot of variation in the weight loss programmes offered by GPs. Some studies involved participants who only had one short advice session with a doctor, while others involved multiple visits with their GP. The length of the programmes also varied – from three months to three years.

Most sessions were conducted in person, while some were done over the phone or online. In some studies, nurses, dietitians and health coaches also gave weight loss advice to participants.

The advice GPs gave to participants usually included education about increasing physical activity and reducing calorie intake through self-monitoring. Sometimes weigh-ins and feedback was also included to motivate patients. Some studies also had GPs give patients specific diets or structured workout plans.

We found that, after a year, people who received help from their doctor lost an average of 3.7kg – 2.3kg more than people who did not receive help from their GP. While this difference in weight loss may seem small, even losing 2%-5% of body weight can have a range of health benefits, such as improved blood sugar levels. We also showed that people who lost weight with help from their GP kept around 80% of it off when followed up two years later.

Weight loss success

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that the more contact a person had with their GP the better. Patients who saw their GP at least 12 times during the programme lost the greatest amount of weight.

We also found that the two programmes that had the greatest weight loss in a 12-month period were those that used a total diet replacement plan. Total diet replacements involve replacing foods with a number of formula products such as shakes and provide between 800-1200 calories per day. These are mostly used in people with high sugar levels to try and reverse type 2 diabetes. However anyone with obesity may use them to lose weight quickly.

The third best programme involved weekly sessions for the first six months, followed by monthly sessions for 18 months thereafter. For the first month, participants were given prepackaged foods and meal replacement shakes. Replacement of foods may be easier to stick to at first as participants don’t need to decide what foods to make.

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