Patients 'welcome' weight loss interventions from their GP, study shows

GPs opportunistically raising the issue of weight loss and offering referral to weight management programmes is effective and largely welcomed by patients, a study in the Lancet suggests.

Weight loss interventions offered by GPs in unrelated consultations ‘take just 30 seconds’ of a GP’s time, are cost-effective and these patients are five times more likely to have lost weight a year later, according to researchers. 

The trial, led by the University of Oxford and published in the Lancet, included 137 GPs in England and involved over 1,800 patients who attended a consultation unrelated to weight loss.

Patients were randomly allocated to one of two groups, with half offered referral onto a 12-week weight management programme available for free on the NHS. The other half were advised that losing weight would benefit their health, but not offered a place on the programme.

For patients who accepted a referral to a weight-loss programme, GPs made their first appointment and offered a follow-up. Over three quarters of patients (77%) in this group agreed to take part in the programme, with 40% going on to attend.

After being weighed again 12 months later, the researchers found patients in this group were five times more likely than the control group to have taken effective action to lose weight – losing an average 1.43kg more in weight.

Weight loss

A follow-up survey showed that 81% of patients across both groups said the intervention was appropriate and helpful, with only 0.2% reporting it as inappropriate and unhelpful.

‘Doctors can be concerned about offending their patients by discussing their weight, but evidence from this trial shows that they should be much less worried,’ lead author Professor Paul Aveyard said.

‘Our study found that a brief, 30-second conversation, followed by help booking the first appointment onto a community weight loss programme, leads to weight loss and is welcomed by patients.’

Dr Imran Rafi, RCGP chair of clinical innovation and research, said: ‘Obesity related conditions – which are continuing to rise across the UK – cost the NHS billions every year, and if this scheme is low cost and effective, which this research claims it is, it makes sense to consider it on a wider scale.

‘However, the costs and benefits should be constantly evaluated in terms of patient care and the wider NHS.

‘We must understand that while some patients in this study did benefit from a referral to a weight loss programme, it won’t work for everyone and shouldn’t be considered as a blanket solution to curb growing levels of obesity.’

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