Counselling via the phone and internet are better methods for helping people reduce their weight than simply giving them self-help literature, a Dutch study suggests.
The project compared counselling via phone and e-mail with the standard practice of issuing self-help literature in approximately 1400 workers as an aid to weight management.
The study, reported in the open access journal BMC Public Health, was undertaken at the Department of Public and Occupational Health/EMGO Institute of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.
The study assessed the effects of fortnightly counselling sessions by phone or internet on weight loss and diet in overweight workers after six months.
Participants, each with a body mass index over 25 (the level considered overweight), were randomly split into three groups: a control group, one which received written programme-materials and counselling via phone and another which had access to an interactive programme-website and received counselling via e-mail.
All the participants, including the control group, received self-help brochures that emphasised the importance of physical exercise and diet. The counselling received by the internet and phone groups included encouragement to fit physical activity into their normal routine, such as taking a walk at lunch, and stressed eating a healthy diet.
The researchers assessed the body weight of each participant and each was given a questionnaire by which their food intake, physical activity and waist measurements were assessed. These measurements were taken again six months later.
All the groups had significant weight loss and reduced their fat intake, but those in the phone group lost the most weight and had the greatest improvement in diet. There were no overall significant differences between the phone and internet groups and both groups that received counselling lost more weight than participants who did not. Those in the phone group also increased their physical activity to a greater extent.
The article says that previous trials evaluating phone counselling for weight loss programmes have shown mixed results, and few trials have evaluated e-mail based counselling, but those that have found the results encouraging. The impacts of the two have not, however, been compared.
The researchers conclude that lifestyle counselling by phone and e-mail is effective for weight management. They say: “This could form the basis of improvements in weight management programmes for those unwilling to seek face-to-face counselling. Future studies should evaluate the cost effectiveness of such schemes.”