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GP referral to weight loss programme is effective

GP referral to weight loss programme is effective

Publication date: Wednesday, 04 January 2017
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

Tackling obesity by offering the opportunity to attend a weight loss programme during a routine consultation is effective, welcomed by patients and takes only 30 seconds, according to a new randomised trial of over 1800 people in the UK.

The trial included 137 GPs in England and 1882 people attending a consultation unrelated to weight loss. At the end of the consultation, participants were randomly allocated to receive one of two 30-second interventions. Half (referral group, 940 people) were offered a 12-week weight management programme available for free on the NHS. If the referral was accepted, the GP ensured the first appointment was made for the participant and offered follow up. The other half (control group, 942 people), were advised by their GP that losing weight would benefit their health. All participants were weighed at the first consultation, and then at 3 months they were asked whether they had taken any action to manage their weight. They were weighed again at 12 months.

Over three quarters (77%) of those offered the intervention agreed to take part in the programme and 40% attended. People in the referral group lost on average 1.43 kg more weight than those in the control group (2.43 kg vs 1.04kg). Also, a quarter of participants in the referral group had lost at least 5% of their body weight after a year, and 12% had lost at least 10% – double the rate of the control group. 

Importantly, the majority of people (81%) across both groups found the intervention appropriate and helpful. Over the 12 months of the trial, a similar proportion of people in both groups had taken some action to lose weight, but approximately five times more people in the referral group had taken effective action.


The findings should provide reassurance to doctors who rarely talk to patients about their weight for fear of causing offence, lack of time or belief that such interventions are ineffective. The study authors say the low cost intervention should be considered as the first point of call for GPs in treating obesity.

Aveyard P, et al. Screening and brief intervention for obesity in primary care: a parallel, two-arm, randomised trial.Lancet 2016, published online 24 October.

Topics covered:
Category: Evidence in Practice
Edition: Volume 1 Number 12 PCCJ Online 2016
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

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