Slimming World reveals wealth of knowledge and data that can help tackle obesity crisis
Following the announcement from the Government that they will publish a new National Obesity Framework by the end of the year, Slimming World – the UK’s largest independent weight management organisation which invests millions into research – is calling on Ministers to the talk to them as new policy is developed.
Interview with Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition & Research, Slimming World.
What areas does Slimming World’s research cover?
Slimming World is actively involved in internal and external research projects into the causes of and solutions to obesity.
There are four key themes to our research which are:
• further developing our own programme and service to members;
• producing evidence of the efficacy of our method, for weight loss and maintenance;
• ongoing research to advance knowledge around sustainable weight management strategies such as the role of energy density and satiety, and the importance of mental and emotional well-being;
• informing and responding to the public health agenda.
How important is research in tackling the obesity crisis?
Obesity is a complex and multi-layered issue that has an impact on physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing and we know that there is no silver bullet. However, the more we know about obesity the better we understand the support people need to be able to tackle their own weight issue and thus start to make a very real impact on an individual, the family and the wider community.
What organisations does Slimming World work with to produce research?
We conduct our own in-house research projects, work in partnership with external collaborators, commission studies and support external academic-led research in terms of providing expertise, access to members or provision of the weight management intervention for externally run projects.
We are extremely proud of our national and international research partners which include major EU funded projects such as Diogenes (EU framework 5) and research partners including universities, the East Midlands Platform for Health and Wellbeing and the Compassionate Mind Foundation. Professor James Stubbs, who is part of our research team, currently holds the Miles Bramwell Chair for Behaviour Change and Weight Management at the University of Derby.
Professor Stubbs’ research focuses on the psychological impact of obesity and seeks to find ways to engage more people in making changes to their behaviour, as well as promoting the long-term maintenance of those changes by helping people to cope with relapses.
In collaboration with a number of partner institutions and organisations Professor Stubbs’ is leading Slimming World’s participation in the €5 million NoHoW (Navigating to a Healthy Weight) European obesity project to research the effectiveness of mobile phone apps and other hi-tech aids in helping people lose weight and maintain their weight loss.
How has Slimming World’s understanding of weight loss and obesity informed its research programme?
We have a unique dataset of 1.3 million self-funded Slimming World members, the largest in the world. Our research team uses this dataset to produce evidence of weight loss outcomes of people attending a lifestyle support programme, including effectiveness for different population groups and demographics like socio-economic data, gender and how effective the Slimming World programme is for people with high BMIs.
We know from our work with such a large scale sample that, for many overweight people, successful long-term weight loss can only be achieved by tackling deep-seated emotional issues. Motivation and support is most effective when mental health and wellbeing is taken into account and support is delivered with genuine, compassion, respect and understanding.
As well as looking at evidence of effectiveness, we use access to the data and conduct research among our members who are losing weight or have achieved weight loss success, to develop understanding of behaviour change and long term weight management. For example, a recent piece of research looks at the importance of goal setting on successful weight loss.
What contribution has your research and understanding made to public health?
There are many areas of our research programme that can and should inform the public health agenda and emerging policy. For example, Slimming World is part of the HELP study, a RCT looking at the long-term benefits of weight management in pregnancy. Likewise, Type 2 diabetes is recognised as a huge public health problem that can, to a large degree, be controlled by weight management and changes to lifestyle.
We also pioneered NHS referral to community lifestyle weight management services, now a nationally recognised component of obesity care pathways recommended within NICE guidance. This followed our pilot research work investigating the feasibility and practicalities of primary care professional referral of obese patients to local Slimming World groups.
Slimming World was started 46 years ago from a conviction that the burden carried by overweight people is two-fold. There is the burden of excess weight itself and there is an often far greater burden: that of shame, self-criticism and poor self-esteem. Last year we welcomed NICE’s acknowledgment of the need for compassion in long term weight loss success as it is something we’ve been lobbying for, and advocating, for many years.
Prevention is now recognised as the key to addressing obesity and other public health problems. Slimming World has conducted research into the influence our members have on their family and friends – across the wider social and community network – and we know that, once a member starts to lose weight and become more active, they pass their new-found positive lifestyle habits on.
Do you think that people would be surprised that Slimming World invests £2 million into research?
The scale of Slimming World’s operation sometimes takes people by surprise. We hold around 13,000 groups weekly across the UK and Republic of Ireland – run by a network of 4,000 Slimming World trained, self-employed Consultants all of whom have themselves lost weight at Slimming World.
Around 800,000 members attend groups in community venues each week. Being part of a local group with a community feel is a great strength but, behind it, is an infrastructure of highly trained Consultants ensuring a consistently high level of service.
How could policy makers looking at obesity utilise Slimming World’s expertise and research?
The Government needs to consult with those who have expertise in facilitating behaviour change on a large scale. It is difficult for people to make lifestyle changes on their own; they often require encouragement and continued support in order to successfully change old habits and behaviours.
In our experience, empowering people to make healthy lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on raising self-esteem and self-confidence by helping people to feel more in control of their own weight and health. Plus as newly formed healthy behaviours are passed on to the whole family, the next generation and the next grows up with healthy habits too.
What resources does Slimming World have that new MPs may not know about?
We have a wealth of resources including data, research and successful members. Many MPs and policy makers have found it hugely informative to go along to their local Slimming World group and meet our members who, through the motivation and support of the community group have changed their health and their lives.
How could Slimming World contribute to the Government’s new obesity framework? Slimming World share its expertise to inform emerging policy?
The Slimming World programme is evidence-based underpinned with research to show both its effectiveness in behaviour change and cost-effectiveness.
Slimming World has unrivalled experience in helping people to lose weight by adopting healthy eating habits based on eating normal, everyday foods, developing a practical daily activity routine and remaining motivated within a community incorporating social support. Our research programme draws on an enviable amount of data from members in groups across the UK and Ireland. Slimming World is also investing in research to discover how digital technologies can help people to develop new healthy lifestyle behaviours and sustain that behaviour change.
Policy-makers cannot afford to ignore Slimming World as a key stakeholder in helping to provide solutions not only in weight management but in helping to prevent obesity too.