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Over-the-Phone Weight Loss Counseling Works

For rural women, it's cheaper and less time-consuming than in-person visits, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Telephone counseling may be as effective as face-to-face counseling in helping people maintain weight loss, researchers report.

The University of Florida study included 234 obese women, ages 50 to 75, in underserved, rural areas of northern Florida.

All the women completed a six-month weight-loss program and lost an average of 22 pounds. They were then divided into three groups. Two groups received telephone or face-to-face weight control counseling, while the third group received printed health education materials.

The women were encouraged to use weight-control strategies and asked to record their food intake on at least two weekdays and one weekend day per week.

The food intake records showed that women in the two counseling groups were much more likely to adhere to the behavioral weight control program. Completion of the written self-monitoring records was the single best behavioral predictor of weight change.

After one year, the women in both counseling groups regained an average of 2.5 pounds, while those in the education control group regained an average of eight pounds, the study found.

"We found that the participants who received extended care were able to maintain their weight loss at higher levels than those participants who only received printed health education materials as a follow-up. The success of telephone counseling gives us a cost-effective alternative to face-to-face visits that is more convenient for rural residents who may need to travel long distances for care," lead researcher Michael G. Perri, a professor and interim dean at the university's College of Public Health and Health Professions, said in a university news release.

Perri and his colleagues also found that telephone counseling was less expensive than in-person counseling (an average of $192 vs. $397) and that telephone counseling offers other benefits to patients in rural communities.

"Because distance represents a major barrier to medical care in rural areas, the availability of a treatment modality that does not require time and costs for travel and attendance at clinic visits represents a potentially important approach to providing ongoing care to rural residents," Perri said.

The researchers said their study, published Monday in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, is the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of telephone counseling for long-term weight management of people in rural areas.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about weight loss for life.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 24, 2008

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