BATON ROUGE, LA -- Recent research confirms what many in the industry already know: Members need accountability in order to lose weight and keep it off. In fact, people who were enrolled in a weight-loss maintenance trial and had a brief, monthly personal contact intervention—most often a 10- to 15-minute personal phone conversation—regained less weight than participants who were in a Web-based intervention or self-directed program.

“Given the difficulty of keeping lost weight off, there is a critical need for practical, affordable strategies that effectively maintain weight loss,” says Phillip Brantley, chief of the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC) and a principal investigator of the study. “Despite the potential for health benefits of maintaining a lower weight after loss, there is little evidence, particularly from clinical trials, on how to accomplish this objective.”

Researchers compared three types of weight-maintenance interventions: monthly contact with a professional counselor, unlimited access to an Internet–based intervention or self-direction. Monthly personal contact consisted of a case-management approach with person-to-person guidance and support. Participants had telephone contact with an interventionist for five to 15 minutes each month, except for every fourth month when they had 45- to 60-minute individual face-to-face contact. The Internet–based intervention included unlimited access to a Web site designed to support weight loss maintenance, with interactive features allowing participants to set personal goals and action plans for the next week and to graph personal data over time. Self-directed participants received minimal intervention.

At the start of the study, participants, on average, weighed 213 lbs. The average weight loss in the first phase for all participants was 18.7 lbs. After the weight loss phase, all groups regained weight, but researchers saw a clear difference, according to a report from PBRC. The self-directed group gained an average of 12.1 lbs., the interactive technology–based group gained an average of 11.5 lbs., and the personal-contact group gained an average of 8.8 lbs.

The study appears in the March 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.