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Getting personal could mean a leaner you
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Personal contact and, to a lesser extent, a computer-based support system can help keep one's weight down, a research team in the United States has found.

About 77 percent of participants who received personal counseling continued to lose weight, 8 percent higher than those under computer intervention and 10 percent more than those with no intervention, the study directed by Duke University showed.

"The results of this study send a strong signal to those who seem to believe that obesity is such an intractable problem that nothing can be done about it," said Dr. Laura Svetkey at Duke University.

"Our research shows that is not true. A large majority of the participants in the Weight Loss Management study lost weight and kept it off for two-and-a-half years."

The study is the largest and longest to date of weight loss maintenance strategies. Its results will appear in the March 12 issue of the American Medical Association journal.

Researchers studied 1,685 overweight or obese adults who were being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or both. Participants were asked to increase their activity level, reduce calorie intake and follow a weight-loss diet for a period of six months.

In the first phase of the study, participants attended 20 weekly group meetings with a trained interventionist who coached them on changing their lifestyles. Sixty-one percent of participants met the standard of losing at least nine pounds and were admitted to the second phase.

In the second phase, participants were randomized to one of three groups: a self-directed control group, where they were left to their own devices to manage their weight; a personal contact group, where they received monthly coaching and support from a counselor assigned to them; or a computer-based weight loss maintenance program that offered the same counseling that personal contact offered, but in a virtual, interactive format.

More than 70 percent of the participants weighed less at the end of the study. Those in the personal contact group were the most successful, with 77 percent maintaining some weight loss. The computer intervention group had a 69 percent success rate and the self-directed group had 67 percent.

"In addition, 42 percent of the personal contact group was able to maintain weight loss of at least 5 percent of their starting weight, an amount that has clear health benefits," Svetkey said. "In the other groups, about 35 percent were able to maintain this much weight loss."

"We didn't set out to cure obesity, but we did want to offer participants a set of tools they could use to change their lives," Svetkey said.

"It's not easy to counteract all the forces around us that encourage us to overeat and be sedentary, but we think this study moves us in the right direction.

Svetkey emphasized that every pound lost could lower blood pressure and the risk of developing diabetes. "Our patients have shown that under the right conditions, long-term weight control is an achievable goal worth pursuing."

(Xinhua/Agencies March 12, 2008)

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