Our Latest: Primary Care Patients’ Views on Support for Their Weight Loss

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As always, we’re excited to share our newest paper – this one was published in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, and it takes a close look at human and technology-based support for weight loss efforts. Specifically, we were interested in primary care patients’ perceptions of and their satisfaction with the support they received during their previous weight loss efforts. The data were collected by Dr. Adarsh Gupta, a physician at RowanSOM Family Medicine, and the paper represents a collaboration between Dr. Gupta and the CHASE Lab at Rowan University. Authors were Megan Brown, research coordinator for the CHASE Lab; Kristen Pasko, a second year Ph.D. student in Rowan’s Clinical Psychology program; Dr. Arigo, CHASE lab director; and Dr. Gupta.

To collect data, providers at RowanSOM Family Medicine discussed the study with patients either before or after their clinic appointment. Patients were asked to take an online survey about their previous weight loss efforts and the types of support they received for weight loss. The categories were human support (from family members, friends, coworkers, etc.), app support (from smartphone applications such as MyFitnessPal), and social media support (from platforms such as Facebook).

What was it like to work on this study?  

“It was a wonderful experience working with our residents to collect the data, and then with the CHASE team to write up the results. Megan, Kristen, and Dr. Arigo provided a great insight into the data collected that resulted in this wonderful publication. I think we work great together as team and we are onto more projects together. Next project is coming very soon.”

Dr. Adarsh Gupta, Family Medicine Physician at RowanSOM

“This was a really interesting experience and taught me a lot about professional collaboration. We (CHASE lab) weren’t involved in the initial process of recruiting patients and distributing surveys, but we handled the data and helped to create a paper out of it. Playing a role in the writing process gave me the experience of translating what we found into a meaningful message that reaches people from various fields. And having the opportunity to share important information that could potentially help improve weight loss interventions is very rewarding. I also enjoyed working with Dr. Gupta, and being able to contribute to this team effort.”  

Megan Brown, CHASE Lab Research Coordinator

What did we find?

We found that more than half of the patients were self-driven in their weight loss efforts, rather than having supervision by a professional (such as a dietician). But those who did have professional supervision were more satisfied with the support they received overall. We also found that women perceived more support than men did.

With respect to using technology for weight loss support, more than half of the patients used health apps, but very few turned to social media for support. On average, patients were more satisfied with human and app support for weight loss than they were with support from social media.

What does this tell us?

These results suggest that primary care patients seek weight loss support from a variety of sources, and that seeking greater human support (including input from professionals) and support from apps might be particularly useful. Although patients don’t see social media as particularly helpful for weight loss, there may be ways to improve the support available on these platforms. And men might be less likely to seek or receive support for weight loss than women, which could hinder their weight loss efforts. We need more work in this area to help us pinpoint the type(s) of support that will be most helpful for individual patients and the best resources for accessing that support.

It’s been great to work with Dr. Gupta to recruit participants for Project WHADE, and now, to have the opportunity to work with him and learn from the data he collected. The findings were surprising to me. For example, some studies show that men may receive more social support than women (in general), but this may not translate to the context of weight loss – it’s possible that people think it’s more socially acceptable to support a woman’s weight loss, or that men don’t seek as much support as women do. And although there are lots of weight loss support communities on social media, it seems that they’re not as effective as they could be. I look forward to doing more work in this area to find out why we’re seeing these perceptions among primary care patients.

Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab Director

Next steps: Next up is another collaboration between CHASE Lab and Dr. Gupta, using data from a different survey study to understand how patients use social media and other digital tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re particularly interested in better understanding perceptions of social media versus smartphone apps and gender differences in these perceptions.