If you are looking to lose a few pounds in 2009, maybe it’s time to get on the phone or jump online. Really.
A new study from Dutch researchers shows that weight management counseling by telephone or email can help individuals who might otherwise be reluctant to engage in face-to-face visits. Researchers at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam evaluated 1,400 overweight workers.
The volunteers were randomly assigned to three groups: One received phone counseling, a second received similar encouragement by email exchanges while the third received no counseling as a control group.
Phone and email advice was simple yet positive: Take a walk a lunch, eat breakfast, look for ways to eat less at one time, get a good night’s sleep. There were no specific weight-loss goals set for any participant.
After six months, the phone group lost three pounds more than the control group. The email group lost about a pound more, on average, than the control group.
Those amounts might seem modest but the Dutch researchers point to research that shows losing even just six or so pounds per year can have a significant impact on personal health. They speculated that a bit more structure and goal-setting in phone and email sessions could provide even more dramatic results.
What seems to work is the feeling of accountability to another person. This hypothesis stands up to health habits and positive change research by such scholars as James Prochaska at the University of Rhode Island, who has a six-step change model that includes the “important step” of telling someone about your plans to, say, quit smoking or work out three times per week.
"If you talk to someone, people feel a bit more pressured to make the change," says Marieke Van Wier, one of the study’s co-authors. "It is modest weight loss but the key is we didn't pressure people to make big changes.”
Bob Condor blogs for Alternative Health Journal every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.