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Tailored weight loss program for veterans disappoints

About 70 percent of vets are overweight.

An intensive, one-on-one weight loss program developed by the Veterans Affairs Department failed to attract many comers, and the few who did take part didn’t lose much weight, researchers report.

It’s not clear why the program did not work, but it doesn’t bode well for efforts to help the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese lose weight. Most studies looking at how to help people take off the pounds suggest such just such a personalized, lifestyle-changing approach.

Alyson Littman of the Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center and colleagues looked at the VA’s MOVE! Weight Management Program for Veterans. 

Out of all the VA patients, 76,599 were classified as candidates for the program, based on their records, height, and weight. “A total of 3,192 (4.2 percent) patients participated in MOVE!,” Littman’s team wrote in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

About half of these only showed up for one session. Those who showed up more often lost more weight but the effects also didn’t last much longer than a few months, on average. “Participants lost approximately 1 to 2 pounds during 6 to 12 months of follow-up,” Littman’s team wrote.

The program was intense and carefully planned, using dietitians, physical and recreational therapists, social workers, and mental-health professionals. Each participant had a tailored diet, exercise, and counseling regime. But most people did not stick with the program, perhaps demonstrating just how difficult it is to change lifestyle to lose weight.

Obesity in the military and afterwards is a serious problem. “An estimated 70 percent of veterans are overweight or obese, with a body mass index (BMI, in kg/m2) of 25.0 or more, consistent with the prevalence of overweight and obesity among demographically similar nonveterans,” Littman’s team wrote.

Being obese raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and several types of cancer.

“Weight loss as small as 5 percent can reduce the risk of chronic conditions associated with obesity,” Littman’s team wrote—and some other programs have worked better. The MOVE! Program worked about as well as other “real world” studies, however, Littman pointed out.

“Evaluating the effectiveness of MOVE! is challenging because it is not clear that the program was implemented as intended. Sustained and intensive treatments are associated with better outcomes,” her team added.

National Journal will examine the issue of overweight military personnel in more detail on Wednesday.

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