Doctor knows best: Research shows doctor-led advice on weight management is effective

Doctor-led advice on weight management results in effective weight loss and a reduction in waist circumference for people with obesity, new research from Loughborough University has found.

Only recently, Cancer Research UK released a report that showed the number of people living with obesity will outweigh the number with a healthy weight by 2040. This shows that we need to support people to lose weight by offering effective services.

The research, carried out in partnership with the Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, was published today (Tuesday 31 May) in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and looks at the results of 27 trials that included 8,000 participants, with 4,149 taking part in weight management interventions and 3,851 not. Weight change for all participants was recorded at a 12-month follow-up.

The delivery of the weight management interventions varied from face-to-face advice, telephone consultations and online support. Four trials were delivered by nurses, four by GPs and eight by non-medical practitioners. Fourteen trials either had a combination or a mixture of practitioners delivering the intervention depending on local service availability.

The key findings of the study are:

  • Weight management interventions delivered by primary care practitioners are effective and can help patients to better manage their weight
  • At least 12 contacts with a practitioner are needed to deliver effective weight management programmes in primary care
  • Those who received a weight loss programme lost over 2.3 kg more and improved their waist measurements by 2.5cm more than those who didn’t receive a weight loss programme
  • Evidence suggests that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners were as effective as those delivered by GPs – both showed significant and important weight loss

The research was led by Dr Claire Madigan from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour (CLiMB).

Speaking about the study, she said: “With the world facing an obesity crisis we need to find effective and affordable ways of supporting people in their weight loss journey.

“This study shows that doctor-led or supported advice is effective in helping people with obesity to lose weight over a 12-month period. Although the 2.3 kg weight loss in the intervention group may seem modest, just a 2-5% weight loss is associated with improvements in overall health.

“From a cost perspective, while we did not determine the costs of the programme, it is likely that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners would be cheaper than doctor and nurse-led programmes.

“Our research found that interventions delivered by non-medical practitioners such as health coaches were as effective as those delivered by GPs.”

Effectiveness of weight management interventions for adults delivered in primary care: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials is published by the BMJ.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/104

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

The NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University. It is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The NIHR Leicester BRC undertakes translational clinical research in priority areas of high disease burden and clinical need. These include cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and lifestyle, obesity and physical activity. There is also a cross-cutting theme for precision medicine. The BRC harnesses the power of experimental science to explore and develop ways to help prevent and treat chronic disease. It brings together 70 highly skilled researchers, 30 of which are at the forefront of clinical services delivery. By having scientists working closely with clinicians, the BRC can deliver research that is relevant to patients and the professionals who treat them.

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.