Telephone counseling may keep the pounds off

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Counseling delivered over the phone may help people who’ve successfully lost weight to keep those pounds off for the long haul, a study published Monday suggests.

Researchers found that of more than 200 obese women who completed a weight-loss program, those who continued to receive counseling — either in person or by phone — were more successful at keeping the weight off for another year than women who only received newsletters with diet tips.

Telephone counseling appeared just as effective as face-to-face sessions.

The findings suggest that such remote counseling could offer a convenient, relatively cheap way to aid successful weight loss — particularly for people living in rural areas with limited healthcare services, the researchers report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

All of the women in the study lived in rural counties in Florida. Travel expenses meant that while in-person counseling was helpful, it was also more costly, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Michael G. Perri of the University of Florida, Gainesville.

“Telephone counseling,” they write, “constitutes an effective and cost-efficient option for long-term weight management.”

The study included 234 obese women who went through a 6-month weight-loss program that included small-group sessions on how to eat healthy and start a home-based exercise routine.

In the end, the women lost an average of 22 pounds.

They were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: one that continued to receive face-to-face counseling every other week for the next year; one that received the same counseling, but over the phone; and a “control” group that received newsletters with general weight-loss advice.

Women in the two counseling groups talked with counselors about any problems they were having maintaining their healthy new lifestyle and got advice on how to get past those hurdles.

After 1 year, Perri’s team found, women in both counseling groups had regained only about 2 pounds, on average — versus an average of 8 pounds in the control group.

The extended counseling seemed to work, at least in part, by helping the women keep tabs on their food intake. Women in these groups were more likely to follow the programs’ advice to keep records of what they ate each day, and the number of daily records a woman kept was directly related to her long-term weight loss success.

Those findings, Perri and his colleagues note, “highlight the critical role that vigilant monitoring of food intake may play in the maintenance of lost weight.”

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, November 24, 2008.

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