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Finally A Use For Conference Calls—Losing Weight

Counseling given to groups over the phone is unexpectedly highly effective in getting people to lose weight.

Conference calls are frequently a great way to waste the day, eating up valuable time that could be spent doing something useful. But in one context, at least, they’ve been shown to be useful: losing weight.

A study led by Paula Trief and Ruth Weinstock, from SUNY Upstate Medical University, in Syracuse, found that group calls have a better chance of getting people to lose weight, and keep it off, than individual interventions.

The research looked at the effectiveness of regular phone contact with a group of 257 people suffering from metabolic syndrome—a problem that affects up to a third of Americans. The syndrome is the result of a cluster of conditions, and is a known forerunner of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Trief, Weinstock, and colleagues, split the volunteers into two groups and compared two interventions: one where they received counseling individually, and another where they participated as a group. In both cases, coaches helped the participants set dietary goals, monitor calorie intake, increase activity, and worked through problems. The sessions lasted two years, and involved five weekly introductory calls, followed by monthly calls.

The researchers weighed the participants after 6, 12, and 24 months, and found similar levels of loss after one year. The surprising finding came at the end of year two. The conference callers lost an average of 6.2 kg compared to 2.2 kg for the individuals, who actually regressed from year one (when their loss was 4.6 kg). The conference callers also had greater reduction in their body mass index.

The study is published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"The interventions were delivered using the telephone as a way to increase reach through flexible scheduling and access for those less likely to enroll if travel was required," the authors say. "This model holds promise for use to effect lifestyle change and weight loss in primary care settings."