Weight loss: ‘Telling someone to improve their diet does not work’

Doctors often advise overweight people to lose weight by improving their eating habits or by becoming more physically active. However, the results of a new study suggest that this generic advice does not allow people to be successful in their weight loss efforts.

According to data cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 71 percent of adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. Being overweight can increase a person’s risk of developing metabolic conditions, such as diabetes, and experiencing cardiovascular problems.

For this reason, doctors advise overweight people to improve their health outcomes by adopting a healthier lifestyle. However, recent research by researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, found that offering generic advice, such as “eat a better diet” or “exercise more,” does not help people lose weight. “Just telling someone to lose weight or improve their diet or physical activity didn’t work,” says study co-author Professor Gary Bennett. “Instead, the doctor should encourage the patient’s participation in a specific program,” he recommends. Professor Bennett and his colleagues report their current findings in a study that appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Specificity is important, as is empathy

The researchers recruited 134 participants who were overweight and had a mean age of 51 years. Of these participants, 70 percent were female and 55 percent were African American. Many of them had health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

The study lasted 1 year, during which the participants participated in a weight loss program that set behavioral goals based on their individual needs. As part of the program, participants received educational materials, calls from program coaches, individual progress reports, and text messages containing weight loss tips.

At the same time, the participants had to check in regularly with the doctors and nurses, some of whom only gave them generic advice, while others gave them specific advice and encouragement that reinforced the need for full participation in the weight loss program. .

At 6 and 12 months after the intervention, the researchers assessed the weight of the participants. They were also asked what kind of advice their healthcare providers had offered them and how they perceived the levels of care and empathy from these specialists.

The research team found that participants who received specific advice and information from their healthcare providers lost an average of almost 7 pounds (lbs) more than their peers who only received generic advice from doctors and nurses.

In addition, the researchers found that the level of empathy shown by the doctors also made a significant difference.
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Thus, participants who perceived their doctors to be empathetic also lost about 7 pounds more, on average, than those whose healthcare providers showed little empathy.

Following these findings, the study authors recommend that healthcare providers become more aware of the importance of their interaction with patients. However, the researchers also encourage people seeking medical advice regarding weight loss to consult doctors and nurses for specific guidance.

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