Phone and e-mail counseling help people improve their diet and lose weight, according to a Dutch study published on Friday that points to a potentially simple but effective tool in the fight against obesity.
The study of 1,400 Dutch overweight workers suggests this kind of lifestyle advice is especially good for people unwilling to seek face-to-face counseling to deal with weight problems.
"We actually found significant weight loss with phone counseling which hasn't been seen in other research," said Marieke Van Wier, a researcher at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, who worked on the study.
"If you get some people to lose a modest amount of weight it can make big impact on public health."
Obesity, which raises the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart problems, is increasingly a problem as more people adopt a sedentary lifestyle.
The World Health Organization classifies about 400 million people around the world as obese.
Van Wier and colleagues randomly assigned the volunteers — all of whom were classified as overweight — into either a control group which had no counseling, one that received phone counseling and another given email counseling.
The advice included encouragement to keep fit, such as taking a walk at lunch, and stressed eating a healthy diet. It did not entail any particular weight-loss target, Van Wier said in a telephone interview.
After six months people on phone counseling lost 3.3 pounds more than those in the control group while the volunteers using email lost about a pound more, Van Wier said.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal BioMed Central, believe this kind of counseling can bolster more aggressive weight-loss targets for overweight people, Van Wier added.
"If you talk to someone, people feel a bit more pressured to make the change," Van Wier said. "It is modest weight loss but the key is we didn't pressure people to make big changes.