Good weight loss programs require specific advice, accountability, and goal setting. Many physicians give obese client only generic advice, like a suggestion that they lose weight or sign up for Weight Watchers. Not surprisingly, that sort of vague direction is generally ineffective.

According to new research from Duke University, when it comes to losing weight, doctors’ messages to their patients can make a powerful difference.

Participants in the study had only modest weight loss when doctors gave generic advice such as “you should exercise more.” They fared much better when doctors instead provided specific instructions.

“Just telling somebody to lose weight or improve their diet or physical activity didn’t work,” said study co-author Gary Bennett, a professor of psychology at Duke. “The doctor should instead encourage patient participation in a specific program.”

A report on the research was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Model for Good Weight Loss Programs

The Duke researchers decided to try to create a model for good weight loss programs. Here’s what they did:

  • They conducted a randomized clinical trial over the course of a one-year period.
  • They selected 134 study participants who were overweight, predominantly female and had a mean age of 51.
  • In addition to weight problems, participants had additional health concerns such as hypertension and diabetes.
  • Study participants were invited to take part in a comprehensive weight-loss program that included tailored behavioral goals, educational material, calls from coaches and text messages with weight-loss tips and progress reports.
  • Participants also checked in regularly with health care providers.
  • Some doctors or nurses simply urged patients in general terms to “lose weight” or “exercise more.”
  • Other health care providers, though, gave specific advice that reinforced the comprehensive weight-loss program, such as encouraging patients to take calls from weight-loss coaches.
  • Patients in the latter group lost nearly 7 pounds more on average.
  • The amount of empathy doctors displayed made a difference, too.
  • Patients who rated their providers as empathetic and caring lost about 7 pounds more on average than those who did not.

Results of Model for Good Weight Loss Programs

The results demonstrated that comprehensive weight loss programs with specific advice and accountability are much more effective than vague directives to lose weight. Also, since change is difficult, an empathetic coach helps. A combination of these factors leads to weight loss.

Study co-author Megan McVay, an assistant professor at University of Florida concluded:

  • Patients who enroll in a weight-loss program should consider asking their health care providers to check in on their progress.
  • This can help keep them accountable.
  • It is also important to have a provider that they feel cares about them and has sympathy towards how hard it is to lose weight.

Click here for full study of model for good weight loss programs.