Washington: Health coaches could play an important role in the battle of the bulge, according to a new research.
In the first study of its kind, obese individuals participating in a low-intensity behavioural weight loss program who were supported by either a professional health coach or a peer coach lost clinically significant amounts of weight (at least 5 percent of their initial body weight).
These weight losses are comparable to the amount of weight lost by patients participating in a more intensive behavioural intervention with twice as many treatment sessions.
“Our study suggests health coaches may not only yield impressive weight loss outcomes, but that lay – or peer – health coaching may be particularly promising as a cost-effective obesity treatment strategy,” said lead author Tricia M. Leahey, Ph.D., of The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.
“Although these findings are only preliminary, it’s encouraging that lay health coaches successfully supplemented a less intensive, lower cost behavioural intervention and that their weight losses were actually comparable to those produced by professional coaches – something that could be critical in this changing health care landscape,” M. Leahey said.
About one-third of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and no state has met the nation’s Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity prevalence to 15 percent.
Obesity and its associated health problems, including heart disease and diabetes, continue to have a significant economic impact on the U.S. health care system, costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
In the health coach treatment model, health coaches supplement treatment by providing ongoing support, accountability and information to promote behaviour change between treatment visits.
Health coaches can be professional health care providers, such as nurses or social workers; peers, or individuals currently facing the same health problem who coach one another to support behaviour change; and mentors, or master coaches, who have previously and successfully faced the same health situation.
In this randomized controlled pilot study, 44 participants took part in a group behavioural weight loss program that met for 12 times over the course of 24 weeks – half the amount of sessions of a traditional treatment plan.
Groups met weekly for the first six weeks, biweekly for the following six weeks and monthly thereafter.
Miriam researchers randomly assigned individuals to work with one of three different types of health coaches: a professional (behavioural weight loss interventionist), peer (a fellow group member) or mentor (a successful weight loser).
While all three groups yielded clinically significant weight losses, participants guided by professional and peer coaches had the most success, losing more than 9 percent of their body weight on average, compared to just fewer than 6 percent in the mentor group.
At least half of the participants in the professional and peer coaching groups achieved a 10 percent weight loss, which research has shown can reduce the risk of a wide range of illnesses linked to obesity, including heart disease and diabetes. Only 17 percent of those in the mentor group accomplished this goal.
The study was published online in the journal Obesity.