UW-Madison: After weight loss, a few phone calls could help keep the weight off


Emily Kumlien

(608) 265-8199


Madison, Wis. – A brief series of phone calls could be the key to keeping the pounds off long term.

As most dieters know, regaining weight after losing it is very common. A new study found that a primarily telephone-based intervention focused on teaching patients skills to maintain their weight loss modestly slowed the rate of participants’ weight regain over about a year (56 weeks). The results of the study were published today in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Corrine Voils, a research career scientist at Williams S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital and surgery faculty at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, led the study when she was at the Durham VA and Duke University. After completing a 16-week weight-loss program, study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group (maintenance) had a three group visits and consistent follow-up phone calls from a registered dietician over 42 weeks, followed by 14 weeks of no contact. The group visits, which addressed issues such as obtaining social support and preventing relapse, stopped after three months but the phone calls continued.

The other group (usual care) had no contact except for the weight assessment at the end of the study.

After 56 weeks, the average weight regain in the intervention group was about less than two pounds compared to over five pounds in the group with no intervention.

“Weight-loss maintenance remains the holy grail of weight-loss research. The big take- away from our study is that we can help reduce the rate of weight regain. The phone calls can be simple and provide effective skills for the patients,” said Voils. “This study suggests that incorporating a weight maintenance intervention into clinical or commercial weight-loss programs could make them more effective in the long term.”

Most people tend to regain weight at a rate of about two to four pounds a year. This research looked at patients from August 2012 to December of 2015 at three primary-care clinics at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina. Dietary intake and physical activity were self-reported.

The average initial weight loss after the 16-week program was about 16 pounds and participants needed to lose at least eight pounds initially to continue with the maintenance phase.

The study was funded by the Health Services Research and Development Service of the Department of Veterans Affairs.