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JAMA. 2003 Apr 9;289(14):1792-8.

Weight loss with self-help compared with a structured commercial program: a randomized trial.

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  • 1New York Obesity Research Center, St Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.



Although commercial weight loss programs provide treatment to millions of clients, their efficacy has not been evaluated in rigorous long-term trials.


To compare weight loss and health benefits achieved and maintained through self-help weight loss vs with a structured commercial program.


A 2-year, multicenter randomized clinical trial with clinic visits at 12, 26, 52, 78, and 104 weeks conducted at 6 academic research centers in the United States between January 1998 and January 2001.


Overweight and obese men (n = 65) and women (n = 358) (body mass index, 27-40) aged 18 to 65 years.


Random assignment to either a self-help program (n = 212) consisting of two 20-minute counseling sessions with a nutritionist and provision of self-help resources or to a commercial weight loss program (n = 211) consisting of a food plan, an activity plan, and a cognitive restructuring behavior modification plan, delivered at weekly meetings.


Weight change was the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcomes included waist circumference, body mass index, blood pressure, serum lipids, glucose, and insulin levels.


At 2 years, 150 participants (71%) in the commercial group and 159 (75%) in the self-help group completed the study. In the intent-to-treat analysis, mean (SD) weight loss of participants in the commercial group was greater than in the self-help group at 1 year (-4.3 [6.1] kg vs -1.3 [6.1] kg, respectively; P<.001) and at 2 years (-2.9 [6.5] kg vs -0.2 [6.5] kg, respectively; P<.001). Waist circumference (P =.003) and body mass index (P<.001) decreased more in the commercial group. Changes in blood pressure, lipids, glucose, and insulin levels were related to changes in weight in both groups, but between-group differences in biological parameters were mainly nonsignificant by year 2.


The structured commercial weight loss program provided modest weight loss but more than self-help over a 2-year period.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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