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Programme helps people maintain weight loss after one year

Date: 01 November 2016

New research published in Health Technology Assessment has found that the Weight Action Programme (WAP) helps people to maintain weight loss after one year.

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK that is contributing to health inequalities. The associated health risks can be serious, including heart disease and diabetes. People can seek advice through their GP and are sometimes given slimming medications as well as a referral to a practice nurse or dietician. However, once they have lost weight, many people find it difficult to maintain the weight loss in the long term.

The Weight Action Programme (WAP) was developed over a number of years to address challenges specific to underprivileged groups and provide people from across the socioeconomic spectrum with the tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It consists of weekly tasks and peer-support group sessions that combine cognitive behavioural interventions, dietary advice and self-monitoring. Pilot studies have found the intervention to be effective with an average weight loss of 4.5kg after three months.

A research team, led by Professor Peter Hajek and Professor Hayden McRobbie of Queen Mary, University of London, aimed to see whether WAP is effective in the long term when compared to standard advice provided by practice nurses.

They recruited 330 people from six GP surgeries in inner city London areas and split them into two groups; one group received WAP (eight weekly sessions, followed by optional monthly maintenance sessions for one year), and the second group received weight management advice from a trained nurse (four one-to-one sessions over 8 weeks). Most participants were not in paid employment and 60 percent were from ethnic minorities.

Weight loss over one year was measured in terms of weight, waist size and blood pressure. Other measures relating to physical activity and healthy eating were also noted.

The researchers found that, whilst both groups found the help they received beneficial, the participants who received WAP had lost significantly more weight after one year (4.2kg, with 41 percent of participants losing over 5 percent of their baseline body weight). WAP was also shown to be cost-effective, offering good value for money compared to competing claims for NHS resources.

“We see articles about obesity in the news almost daily, but many people feel powerless when faced with the challenges of dieting and exercise. Even those who are successful initially struggle to maintain their weight loss”, commented Professor Hajek. “The WAP breaks these large challenges into manageable chunks and provides a closely monitored structure over the initial period until people habituate to the new routines and adopt them into their daily lifestyle”.

For more details, read the full report in Health Technology Assessment.