It wasn’t just the number on the scales that improved…
By Sarah Gibbons
Losing weight can be a struggle. And while healthy eating is generally considered a more sustainable route to weight loss than fad diets, a new study suggests low-calorie soups, shakes and meal replacement bars could be helpful.
So much so, the research team from the University of Oxford, now claims that these diet replacement programmes should be a recommended option for obese patients (those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more).
Their research, published in the BMJ, found that a programme of diet replacement meals of 810 calories a day led to substantially greater weight loss and greater improvements in the risk of cardiometabolic disease, compared with regular weight loss support from a practice nurse.
The study involved 278 adults who were obese and seeking support to lose weight in 10 primary care practices in Oxfordshire.
Of the participants, 138 were assigned to the diet programme and 140 to usual care. Twelve months later, 73 per cent of the participants were assessed again.
For the first 12 weeks, participants in the diet programme met with the counsellor weekly for support and replaced all food with four formula food products daily: soups, shakes and bars, 750ml of skimmed milk, 2.25L of water or other low or no energy drinks and a fibre supplement.
After eight weeks, meal replacements were lessened and conventional food-based meals were introduced.
During the weight maintenance phase from week 13 to 24, counsellors encouraged participants to consume one formula food product a day, with the remainder of the diet provided by food.
After a year, those who’d used the low-calorie soup, shakes and bars had lost on average 1st 9lb (10.7kg) compared with half a stone (3.1kg) for those in the usual weight loss group.
When their blood pressure and cholesterol was measured, there were also noticeable improvements, according to the figures.
Professor Paul Aveyard, a co-author of the paper, said: ‘This study shows that GP referral to a total diet replacement programme in the community is an effective intervention which GPs can confidently recommend, knowing that it leads to sustainable weight loss and lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes.’
Susan Jebb, a nutrition scientist and professor of diet and population health in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, isn’t celebrating just yet, however.
‘The sad fact is that most people who are obese are not offered treatment,’ she said, explaining in the BMJ that more support is needed for obese patients.
‘For too long the narrative has been that people will “fail” in their weight loss efforts, but the evidence increasingly points to the system “failing” to offer people support for weight loss. We need to seize these opportunities to treat obesity and in so doing, to prevent subsequent disease.
‘Firstly, we need to greatly expand the provision of cost-effective services for weight loss around the country and, secondly, we need to change the culture of medical practice to make the offer of treatment for obesity a routine component of healthcare.
‘Thirty years ago doctors rarely raised the issue of smoking cessation, now it is a “normal” part of medical practice. When we achieve similar levels of engagement from health professionals in treating obesity we will all have something to celebrate.’
If you’re looking to slim down, check out our weight loss section and speak to your GP about how you can achieve a healthy weight.