Health coaching led to “clinically significant weight loss at 24 months” as part of a high-intensity, lifestyle-based obesity treatment program addressing an underserved primary care population, according to a promising study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Health coaches provided weekly sessions for the first 6 months and monthly sessions for the remaining 18 months.

At the completion of the two-year program, participants in the high-intensity, lifestyle-based obesity treatment program reported an average weight reduction of approximately 5%. Participants in a control group of “usual care,” which did not include sessions with a health coach, reported an average weight reduction of approximately 0.5%.

“It’s hard to lose weight for anyone.  Adding any obstacle to treatment, especially poverty, makes that task much more difficult.  We wanted to remove as many barriers as possible so we brought an effective program to people where they are, in the primary care clinics where they’re comfortable, and it works,” said Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, Associate Executive Director of Population and Public Health Sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.    

Why It Matters

Addressing obesity in underserved primary care populations is an urgent, and notoriously challenging, public health issue. This study is a bright ray of hope for patients, practitioners, and payers, and suggests that health coaches can play a key role within an effective coordinated care system. If this program proves to be scalable and replicable, it could be a model for health care systems across the nation, leading to reduced patient suffering, lower spending on preventable chronic diseases, and greater employment opportunities for health coaches.