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Stepped-Care Intervention Results in Weight Loss, at Lower Cost

Released: Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Media Advisory: To contact John M. Jakicic, Ph.D., call Patricia Lomando White at 412-624-9101 or email laer@pitt.edu. To contact editorial author George A. Bray, M.D., call Angela deGravelles at 225-202-5073 or email robin.post@pbrc.edu.

CHICAGO – Although a standard behavioral weight loss intervention among overweight and obese adults resulted in greater average weight loss over 18 months, a stepped care intervention resulted in clinically meaningful weight loss that cost less to implement, according to a study in the June 27 issue of JAMA.

"Most weight loss programs are intensive during the initial weeks of treatment, become less intensive over time, and maintain a fixed contact schedule for participants irrespective of treatment success or failure. Intensive weight loss programs are costly and require substantial time commitments from the participants, making them impractical in many circumstances. An alternative is a stepped-care approach. It involves an initially low-intensity intervention that is increased if weight loss milestones are not achieved at fixed time points. Stepped care has been effective for treatment of other health conditions. In theory, stepped care could result in better weight loss than conventional therapy because treatment intensity is escalated if weight loss goals are not met during the treatment period," according to background information in the article. "If shown to be an effective and a lower cost alternative to traditional in-person programs, a stepped-care approach could prove to be a cost-effective means for obesity treatment."

John M. Jakicic, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues examined whether a stepped-care weight loss intervention (STEP) would result in greater weight loss compared with a standard behavioral weight loss intervention (SBWI). The clinical trial included 363 overweight and obese adults (body mass index: 25-<40; age: 18-55 years, 33 percent nonwhite, and 83 percent female) who were randomized to SBWI (n = 165) or STEP (n=198). Participants were enrolled between May 2008 and February 2010 and data collection was completed by September 2011. All participants were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and attended group counseling sessions ranging from weekly to monthly during an 18-month period. The SBWI group was assigned to a fixed program. Counseling frequency, type, and weight loss strategies could be modified every 3 months for the STEP group in response to observed weight loss as it related to weight loss goals.

Of the 363 study participants, 260 (71.6 percent) provided a measure of weight at the 18-month assessment. The researchers found that weight loss at 18 months was -7.6 kg (16.8 lbs.) in the SBWI group compared with -6.2 kg (13.7 lbs.) in the STEP group. The percentage change in weight from baseline to 18 months was -8.1 percent in the SBWI group compared with -6.9 percent in the STEP group.

Both groups had significant and comparable improvements in resting heart rate, blood pressure level, and fitness.

"From the payer perspective, the mean cost per participant was $358 for the STEP group and $494 for the SBWI group. Costs from the participant perspective also were lower in the STEP group ($427) per participant compared with the SBWI group ($863). From the societal perspective (i.e., the sum of payer and participant), the average cost for STEP was $785. This was significantly less expensive than the average cost for SBWI, which was estimated to be $1,357," the authors write.

The researchers add that using the base-case cost estimates, they found that from the societal perspective, relative to status quo, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for STEP was $127 per 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of weight lost. "The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for SBWI, relative to the less expensive STEP, was $409 per 1 kg of weight lost. From the payer perspective, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratios were reduced to $58 per 1 kg of weight lost for STEP and $97 per 1 kg of weight lost for SBWI."

"Among overweight and obese adults, the use of SBWI resulted in a greater mean weight loss than STEP over 18 months. STEP resulted in clinically meaningful weight loss that cost less to implement than SBWI. Whether this weight loss results in improved health-related outcomes warrants further investigation," the authors conclude.
(JAMA. 2012;307[24]:2617-2626. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com)

Editor's Note: This study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, etc.

Editorial: Diet and Exercise for Weight Loss

"Obesity is one of the most important and most frustrating health problems that physicians treat, and the studies in this issue of JAMA provide valuable information for clinicians who treat obese patients," writes George A. Bray, M.D., of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La., in an accompanying editorial.

"It may be possible to have a more individualized approach to weight loss, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The most efficient treatment approach incorporates periodic reassessments and adjustment of the weight loss regimen based on a patient's success at any given time."

"This trial thus shows that the novel approach of spending more time and effort on patients who need it most may be more economical than implementing a standard protocol for all participants re­gardless of their response. Despite the successes of the ap­proaches used in the study by Jakicic et al, the findings do not answer the question of how to achieve weight loss in a manner that will be appealing enough to the participants to result in long-term, sustained weight loss."
(JAMA. 2012;307[24]:2641-2642. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com)

Editor's Note: The author has completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. Dr. Bray reported that he has been a consultant to Abbott Laboratories and Takeda Global Research Institute; is an advisor to Medifast, Herbalife, and Global Direction in Medicine; and has received royalties for the Handbook of Obesity.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.