Remote-counseling programs for objectives such as weight loss are an increasing area of study among researchers.

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Weight-loss programs offering support via telephone and the Web work about as well as in-person counseling to help obese people lose weight, a study has found.

Two intervention programs were compared with a control group in the two-year study released in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which 415 obese men and women participated. They were randomly placed in a weight-loss program that offered support remotely, via the Web, telephone and email; in a two-year program that included in-person support in addition to the remote support; or in a control group that encouraged independent weight loss.

The remote-support group featured education, worksheets, tools that helped study participants keep track of their goals and progress, and feedback. In-person coaches supported diet and exercise efforts and goals and delved into ambivalent feelings about losing weight. Primary-care providers contributed support as well during routine visits.

After two years, the control had lost an average of about 1.8 pounds, but the remote group and the in-person group had similar average weight losses: 10.1 pounds and 11.2 pounds, respectively. At the two-year mark 18.8 percent of people in the control group had lost 5 percent of their starting body weight, compared with 38.2 percent of those in the remote group and 41.4 percent of those in the in-person group. Achieving and maintaining a 5 percent drop in body weight is considered an achievement among many health professionals, because it can lower the risk of some weight-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.

“The effectiveness of remote support is particularly noteworthy because of the flexibility it offers to both participants and coaches” in addition to its ability to be improved and expanded, the authors wrote.

Remote-counseling programs for objectives such as weight loss are an increasing area of study among researchers, because the technology is available and programs are often less costly than face-to-face counseling.