In the United States, obesity is a significant health concern, with over 42% of adults aged 20 and over affected by it.
It’s not just a matter of physical health; obesity is the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the nation, surpassed only by smoking.
The health risks associated with obesity include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, various cancers, sleep apnea, and liver disease.
Moreover, it places a substantial financial strain on America’s healthcare system.
While many people set New Year’s resolutions to exercise and lose weight, often these goals are not met. This is where the research of University of Missouri’s Mansoo Yu comes into play.
Yu has completed a comprehensive long-term study, focusing on which aspects of online weight loss interventions lead to sustained weight loss and maintenance.
The study, titled “Effectiveness of different online intervention modalities for middle-aged adults with overweight and obesity: A 20-year systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published in the Journal of Prevention.
Yu’s research is particularly relevant as it addresses the challenges faced by middle-aged adults (ages 35–55) who are overweight or obese.
The study found that two features of online weight loss programs are especially beneficial: counseling with professional health coaches and social support from fellow users.
This finding is crucial in today’s digital age, where numerous online weight loss interventions are available.
Yu, a professor at the MU College of Health Sciences, emphasizes that obesity is linked not only to physical health issues but also to mental health concerns like depression, poor self-esteem, and social isolation.
His research aims to help people lead happier, healthier lives by identifying effective online weight loss strategies.
Yu, alongside Kyung Jung Han, a former MU doctoral student and now an associate professor at California State University, Bakersfield, reviewed 20 years of research on various online interventions.
They determined which features correlated with the most significant long-term weight loss.
The study categorized online interventions into three groups: those providing educational information and self-monitoring tools, those with an online ‘group chat’ function for peer support, and those including a professional health coach.
The research revealed that interventions offering access to social support and professional health coaching were as effective as in-person weight loss programs.
This is particularly important for individuals in rural areas, where obesity rates are higher and access to in-person resources may be limited.
Yu suggests that the effectiveness of online interventions lies in choosing programs that provide the right features, like social support and professional coaching.
His eight-year research project, which sifted through two decades of published studies, aims to offer evidence-based recommendations to the community.
For those setting out on a weight loss journey, especially around the New Year, Yu advises:
- Share your resolution with friends, family, and colleagues to increase accountability and support.
- Integrate physical activity into your daily routine.
- Regularly check in with others on their progress and offer encouragement.
- Engage in friendly competition with peers to motivate each other.
- Consult professional health coaches for evidence-based exercise or diet advice.
Yu’s research highlights the potential of online weight loss interventions, especially when they incorporate social support and professional guidance, to effectively address the obesity epidemic.
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The research findings can be found in Journal of Prevention.
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