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Rigor of Weight-Loss Programs Difficult to Identify

Research published in the journal Obesity (Bloom, et al.) has shown how difficult it can be for patients and physicians to find a weight-loss program rigorous enough to meet evidence-based weight management practices.

Guidelines established by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and The Obesity Society recommend that clinicians refer obese patients to a high-intensity weight-loss program operated by a trained interventionist that includes a moderately reduced calorie diet, increased physical activity, and the use of behavioral strategies to facilitate adherence to recommendations.

To determine whether community-based weight-loss clinics in the urban, Mid-Atlantic region (Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC)  were following these five criteria (bolded above) and to assess the accuracy of their public-facing information, researchers examined the website of 191 clinics and conducted phone interviews with the staff of 52 of those clinics.

Their results show that very few clinics met all five criteria (1-19%), few met two criteria (8-12%), and the vast majority met one or fewer criteria (69-92%). Additionally, key elements were reported reliably on less than 60% of programs’ websites when compared with information gained during the phone interviews. Of the 52 clinics interviewed by phone, 6% met all five criteria based solely on their website’s description of the program, compared to 19% when more information was gained during the interview. 

The authors concluded that the research suggests there are few rigorous weight-loss clinics in their region and that those following evidence-based guidelines are difficult to identify through public-facing information alone. Evidence like this shows the need for more concise and direct ways of communicating the rigor of weight-loss programs directly to customers and medical professionals. 

To aid in this effort, ACPM provided the Weight Management Certification Program (not currently active) to nonprofit and for-profit clinics wanting to show that their program meets evidence-based standards for health promotion and weight management. ACPM evaluates programs against best practice criteria for both the overall program content and the individual process elements—placing emphasis on health improvement. 

Programs that meet ACPM's standards are allowed to market their services as certified by the College. Potential customers assessing their weight-loss program options, and medical professionals looking on behalf of their patients, will be able to easily identify which programs have received an ACPM certification.

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