Online Weight Loss Interventions Offering Social Support Are Most Effective Among Middle-Aged Adults

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There are 2 features of weight loss interventions which are most likely to improve weight loss outcomes—having access to professional health coaches and social support from other users.

Online weight loss interventions that provide participants with access to a social support network of other users can promote more weight loss in middle-aged adults compared to other types of online interventions, according to the authors of a study published in the Journal of Prevention.

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The study authors also pinpointed that programs which provide patients with counseling from professional health coaches are more successful for patients with obesity.

Approximately 42.5% of all US adults aged 20 years and over have obesity. Obesity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea and liver disease, and it is now the number 2 most common cause of preventable death in the United States.

Mansoo Yu, a researcher at University of Missouri, worked with Kyung Jung Han, an associate professor at California State University, Bakersfield, on a long-term study to evaluate the features of online weight loss interventions that are most likely to contribute to long-term weight loss and weight maintenance.

The research team evaluated 20 years of published research about online weight loss interventions, placing the interventions into 1 of 3 categories: interventions that provided educational information and self-monitoring tools, interventions that had an online ‘group chat’ function for group discussion, motivation, peer-building, and interventions with a professional health coach to address patient questions.

The duo discovered that adults aged 35 to 55 years benefitted the most from programs that offered counseling from professional health coaches and the ability to access social support from other people using the online intervention. These interventions were “as effective as in-person weight loss interventions,” according to Yu.

But in general, there are other benefits associated with online interventions for weight loss. For instance, people who live in rural areas can access to online weight loss interventions more easily; these interventions can also be more flexible and affordable, since there is no transportation involved, according to Yu.

Furthermore, to promote weight loss and exercise, it can be helpful for a person to allot time into their schedule for physical activity. Since many people dedicate their New Year’s resolution to losing weight and exercising, the researcher also recommended connecting with others to discuss their progress on resolutions and offer words of encouragement, participating in friendly exercise-specific competition, and using professional coaches as a resource for evidence-based diet and exercise-related advice.

“Not only are there physical health issues related to obesity, but individuals with obesity are also at higher risk for mental health issues such as depression, poor self-esteem and social isolation,” said Yu in a press release. “My research is at the intersection of social work and public health, and my goal is to help people live happier, healthier lives.”

REFERENCE

The more the merrier: Research shows online interventions with social support help middle-aged adults with obesity lose weight. The University of Missouri-Columbia. News Release. January 24, 2024. Accessed on January 30, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1032329

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