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High-profile study shows effectiveness of GP's talking about weight and referring to Slimming World

Slimming World

3 min read Partner content

A study published in leading medical journal, The Lancet, has found that patients are motivated to lose weight by conversations with their GP and, if those conversations are used to direct them a weight loss programme, then patients lose ‘substantially more’ weight.


The study, led by the University of Oxford, looked at the impact of GP’s instigating 30-second conversations with patients about their weight. It found that while brief conversations about weight were welcomed by patients and increased the likelihood of patients taking action, using those conversations to direct patients to effective support like Slimming World increased the proportion taking effective action five-fold.

The findings are significant because research shows that in most consultations, health professionals do not discuss weight with patients who have an obese BMI, reporting lack of time and fear of causing offence among the key reasons for not raising the issue.

However, most patients (81.3%) said they found the conversation with their GP both helpful and appropriate, with only 0.2% saying they found it inappropriate or unhelpful. And while simply having the conversation with their GP led to a weight loss of 1.04kg at 12 months, people who were offered referral to groups like Slimming World lost 2.43kg on average and those that took up the referral ‘lost substantially more’*. 

Slimming World pioneered the first ever NHS weight management referral programme in 2001 and there are currently 74 Slimming World on Referral live schemes. Under the programme, GPs and other health professionals can refer patients whose weight is affecting their health to Slimming World for regular, convenient, effective and cost-effective support. In their guidance for lifestyle-based weight management services, the National Institute for Health and Care Execellence (NICE) recognises Slimming World as an organisation with evidence that is effective.

Carolyn Pallister, Public Health Manager for Slimming World, said: “This study shows that equipping health professionals with the skills to raise the issue of weight in a non-judgemental way and ensuring they have the knowledge to signpost to proven, effective weight loss support like Slimming World should be at the very top of the public health agenda.

“For some time we have been calling on the government to introduce a national standard for the training of health professionals to ensure that they are fully equipped to raise the issue of weight in a skilled and sensitive way and to signpost effectively. This new study shows once again that referral to Slimming World is effective and that’s because of the support members get in our groups to lose weight effectively without ever feeling hungry or deprived and make long-term changes to their eating and activity habits.

“This study shows that a very brief intervention where health professionals raise the issue of weight and signpost to effective support would help patients lose weight, improve health and quality of life and also save the health service money through lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.”

Professor Paul Aveyard, from the University of Oxford who was the lead author of the study and is also a practising GP, said: “Doctors can be concerned about offending their patients by discussing their weight, but evidence from this trial shows that they should be much less worried. 

“Our study found that a brief, 30 second conversation, followed by help booking the first appointment onto a community weight loss programme, leads to weight loss and is welcomed by patients. On average, people consult their doctor five times a year meaning there is huge opportunity to deliver this low cost intervention on a large scale.” 

* The 2.43kg average is for people who were offered referral to Slimming World or Rosemary Conley and so includes people who did not take up the referral offer. The paper reveals that patients who accepted the referral ‘lost substantially more weight’.

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