Telehealth may be key in helping mitigate the obesity epidemic

A randomized trial reveals that telehealth individual counseling is effective for helping rural residents maintain weight loss
July 15, 2020

Nearly half of the United States adult population is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although obesity is widespread throughout the country, adults living in rural counties are more likely to be obese than adults living in urban counties. The increased burden of obesity in rural counties may be due to multiple factors, including lack of local health care services and transportation to doctor appointments.

Weight-loss programs can be helpful in reducing obesity and related health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure. However, many people regain one-third to one-half of lost weight within a year after participating in a weight-loss program. Previous studies have demonstrated that providing extended care beyond weight-loss programs can help participants maintain weight loss—but for rural residents, it may be particularly challenging to participate in extended weight-loss maintenance programs due to the disparities they may face.

Few studies have focused on helping adults who live in rural areas maintain weight loss through a program that is tailored to their unique needs. Thus, researchers at the University of Florida led a study, which included a collaboration with Tiffany Radcliff, PhD, associate dean for research and a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to investigate the effectiveness of telehealth on maintaining weight loss in rural patients.

The main findings of this three-arm randomized clinical trial were recently published in JAMA Network Open.  The study revealed that rural residents who received individual telephone counseling for a year after participating in a weight-loss program were able to maintain significantly more weight loss compared to the groups that received group telephone counseling and educational materials through email.

“The Rural LEAP study was carefully designed to identify the remote delivery option that worked best to maintain the health and wellness of individuals, and showed that participants from rural areas were most successful in maintaining weight loss when they received individually-tailored telephone support,” Radcliff said. “This type of guided information is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some programs and providers have needed to quickly transition from face-to-face to remote care delivery.”

Read more about this study on the University of Florida website.

– by Callie Rainosek

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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