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Apr 16, 2012

Weight Loss Programming in Underserved Populations

Intervention programs help patients get results by assisting them in losing weight and improving blood pressure control.

It is estimated that as much as 2/3 of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese, resulting in increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Despite the gravity of this situation, effective ways to combat the obesity epidemic are few and far between, particularly in underserved communities where resources are limited.

To address this issue, researchers tested the use of a weight-loss treatment in 3 Boston community health centers between 2008 and 2011, designed specifically for medically vulnerable populations with limited literacy and impaired access to health resources. This program, called “Be Fit, Be Well” incorporated a number of interventions to promote weight loss and blood pressure management, including tailored behavior change goals, self-monitoring, skills training, telephone calls, primary care provider endorsement, group support sessions and links with community resources, such as local walking groups and farmers’ markets.  

After assigning a total of 365 obese individuals with hypertension to either usual care or the intervention, “Be Fit, Be Well”, researchers followed patients for two years, tracking their weight loss and blood pressure. The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that individuals in the intervention group had modest weight loss and significantly improved blood pressure control in comparison with those receiving usual care.

Study findings are encouraging, as “Be Fit, Be Well” could serve as a model for similar weight-loss programming in other underserved communities nationwide. Not only are the interventions in this program feasible in high-risk, socioeconomically disadvantaged patient populations, they get results – helping patients lose weight and improve blood pressure control. And by addressing these cardiovascular risk factors in underserved populations, such programming could help reduce disparities and improve the cardiovascular health of communities across the country.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What weight loss support did patients in the "usual care" group receive?

  • Patients receiving usual care were provided a self-help booklet with information on diet, nutrition and other factors associated with weight loss.
  • How much more weight did the intervention group lose compared with the usual care group?

  • After 2 years, patients in the intervention group lost nearly 2.5 pounds more than those receiving usual care, with a slight reduction in body mass index. Although modest, this difference in weight loss was considered significant.