The more people used an interactive weight management website, the more weight loss they maintained, according to a Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research study published online today in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The National Institutes of Health-funded study evaluated an Internet-based weight maintenance intervention involving 348 participants. Consistent website users who logged on and recorded their weight at least once a month for two-and-a-half years maintained the most weight loss, the study found.
"Consistency and accountability are essential in any weight maintenance program. The unique part of this intervention was that it was available on the Internet, whenever and wherever people wanted to use it," said study lead author Kristine L. Funk, MS, RD, a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.
"This study shows that if people use quality weight management websites consistently, and if they stick with their program, they are more likely to keep their weight off," said study co-author Victor J. Stevens, PhD, senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. "Keeping weight off is even more difficult than losing it in the first place, so the fact that so many people (in the study) were able to maintain a good portion of their weight loss is very encouraging."
This weight maintenance intervention was part of the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial, one of the largest and longest-running weight maintenance trials ever conducted - lasting three years and including more than 1,600 people at four study sites across the United States. To enroll in the trial, participants had to be overweight or obese based on their Body Mass Index and taking medication for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. For the first six months, participants attempted to lose weight by attending weekly group meetings at which they were weighed, encouraged to keep food diaries, and given extensive information about exercise and healthy eating.
Participants had to lose at least nine pounds to remain in the trial for the weight loss maintenance phase, which lasted an additional two-and-a-half years and included three groups of randomized participants: those with no intervention, those who had monthly contact with a personal health coach, and those given unlimited access to a weight-maintenance website created specifically for the trial.
The Internet group included 348 participants who were encouraged to log in at least once a week. If they didn't, they received e-mail reminders and follow-up automated phone messages. Once on the website, participants were prompted to record their weight, their minutes of exercise, and the number of days they kept food diaries. If they went longer than seven days without recording their weight other parts of the website were disabled until the weight was recorded. The website included an interactive bulletin board on which participants could talk with others involved in the study and pose questions to nutrition and exercise experts.
During the first six months of the trial, while they were attending group sessions and before they had access to the website, participants who ended up in the Internet group had lost an average of 19 pounds. Once they were given website access, their objective was to keep off as much of that weight as possible. Consistent users who logged in and recorded their weight at least once a month for 24 months maintained the greatest weight loss - keeping off an average of nine of the 19 pounds they'd lost during the initial phase of the trial. Those who logged on less consistently - at least once a month for 14 months - kept off an average of five pounds. Those who logged on even less kept off an average of only three pounds of their original weight loss.
At the end of the study, 65 percent of the participants were still logging on to the website. The study authors were encouraged by this level of participation, noting that it is rare to see that kind of commitment – even in shorter-term weight maintenance studies involving the Internet.
While the study website is no longer available, there are many useful weight management websites that people can access. The study authors advise consumers to look for sites that:
- Encourage accountability by asking users to consistently record weight, exercise and calories consumed
- Offer tailored or personalized information
- Have interactive features that allow users to communicate with each other and with nutrition and exercise experts
- Provide accurate health information.
View a PDF of the study website here:
This study was funded by a grant from the National Health, Lung and Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Authors include Kristine L. Funk, MS, RD, Victor J. Stevens, PhD, Alan Bauck, Jack Hollis, PhD, and William M. Vollmer, PhD, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.; Lawrence J. Appel, MD, Janelle W. Coughlin, PhD, Arlene T. Dalcin, RD, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore; Phillip J. Brantley, PhD, Catherine M. Champagne, PhD, Betty M. Kennedy, PhD, and Valerie H. Myers, PhD, from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.; Jean Harvey-Berino, PhD, RD, from the University of Vermont in Burlington; Gerald J. Jerome, PhD, from Towson University, Department of Kinesiology, Townson, Md.; and Lillian F. Lien, MD, Carmen D. Samuel-Hodge, PhD, and Laura Svetsky, MD, from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
About the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (http://www.kpchr.org)
Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research, founded in 1964, is a nonprofit research institution dedicated to advancing knowledge to improve health. It has research sites in Portland, Ore., Honolulu and Atlanta.
About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.