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A project at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) has found that a weight loss program based in local health departments can lead to significant weight loss and improved health status for low income, overweight women.

The Weight Wise pilot study, which was conducted from 2005 to 2007, showed women who participated in a program that included health screening tests and coaching from a trained interventionist lost an average of 9.5 pounds more than women in a comparison group who were not in the program. The project’s success encouraged researchers to conduct a new translational research project to see if the project could be replicated in health departments, using existing staff, rather than an interventionist trained by researchers.

Carmen Samuel-Hodge Headshot
Dr. Carmen Samuel-Hodge

“We hired an interventionist to conduct the pilot study, so the research question now is if we took practitioners in health departments, could they deliver the program and get a similar level of effectiveness,” said Carmen Samuel-Hodge, PhD, the principal investigator for the Weight Wise research translation study. “We want people who are in practice to be just as effective.”

The Weight Wise program includes blood pressure screening and an intensive, 16-week behavioral weight loss program. The researchers recently completed a randomized controlled trial of the weight loss program, and are moving into the next phase of the translational research.

The Weight Wise research translation study included six randomly selected North Carolina health departments. Each health department was asked to enroll 40 participants. The health departments targeted low-income women between the ages of 40 and 64 and who had a body mass index (BMI) between 27.5 and 45. After 16 weeks, the mean weight loss was 8.1 pounds for women participating in the program, compared with 0.9 pounds among the control group. While these results are a little less than the average weight loss for the initial Weight Wise program, they are still significant.
About eighty percent of the women in the study stuck with the program, which Samuel-Hodge said was higher than similar programs in the same population. She added that there were a variety of factors to consider when designing weight-loss groups to help keep participants returning to meetings.

“A lot of times the intervention staff had to help the women learn how to eat in a healthy way, without spending a lot of money.  Then there are the food-related and physical activity behaviors to change,” she said. “If you think about it, here you have a person who’s trying to lose weight and maybe their friends or families aren’t.  Maybe they have other more important priorities.  How do you deal with that?”

Samuel-Hodge says another focus of the translational research study will be on how to help the women from the study keep the weight off after the program has ended.  “Nearly half of the women don’t have a home scale. How do you manage your weight if you don’t know what you weigh?” she said. “There are a lot of things that might literally make it quite difficult to keep the weight off.”

Samuel-Hodge is a research fellow at HPDP and a research assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. This study of how to help women maintain their weight loss will continue until the study ends in September 2010. Click here to see a PowerPoint presentation of the study’s early findings.

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