Sustaining weight losses over time

Obesity has been described by leading researchers as ‘a problem out of control’ given its pandemic proportions. About 40 per cent of Australian adults are overweight and an additional 20 per cent are obese, constituting a doubling in the prevalence of obesity during the past 20 years. As its prevalence increases, so too do obesity-associated diseases which, together with obesity, produce major health, psychological, social, and economic costs for the individual and society.

Dr Elizabeth Rieger is coordinating a study that is investigating ways to help obese adults not only lose weight, but even more importantly, to keep that weight off over time. While people are generally able to lose weight through learning strategies to modify their diet and get more physical activity, the majority will struggle to sustain this weight loss in the long-term with most people tending to regain the weight they lost.

The findings from a series of pilot studies led by Rieger suggested that (1) a decrease in motivation was the most common barrier people experienced in keeping off their lost weight over time and that (2) including strategies designed to increase people’s motivation for managing their weight was associated with sustained weight loss over the year following treatment.

These pilot studies informed the current obesity treatment – a three-year trial being funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council. The obesity treatment has two main components. The first of these is helping obese adults to build their motivational skills so that they will have the ability to increase their motivation when they experience the inevitable drops in motivation over time. For the second component, the participants in the trial will be asked to nominate an individual from their life who will be trained to provide effective support for weight management once the treatment ends. Achieving long-term changes in weight-related behaviours is challenging; yet it’s hoped that individuals armed with motivational skills and effective sources of support will be better equipped to meet this challenge.