Virtual weight-loss support effective in pandemic, research shows


Analysis of data from nearly 2,000 people who signed up for weight-management support during the pandemic has shown that joining a virtual group can result in successful weight loss.

While the impact of in-person peer support has long been recognised as a key factor in successful weight loss, the new research shows that when people can’t meet together in person, as has been the case during Covid-19 lockdowns, receiving support virtually is still highly effective.

Participants in the study lost an average of 7.4lbs (3.3kg) or 3.5% of their body weight in six weeks after joining a Slimming World weight-loss group.

Researchers at Slimming World evaluated data from a sample of 1,935 members who joined a Slimming World group between 12th October and 17th November 2020 after taking advantage of a discounted membership offer provided by Slimming World as part of its involvement in Public Health England’s Better Health campaign. The campaign aims to encourage millions of adults to kick start their health and reduce their risk of serious illness, including Covid-19. 1,733 people attended in-person and virtual groups due to restrictions changing during their membership, while 202 people attended all sessions virtually.

The research team found men lost slightly more weight than women by six weeks, with male participants losing 3.9% of their body weight compared to 3.5%, and those who participated in more sessions lost more weight too, showing the impact of coming together with other slimmers for regular support. Of those who attended at least five of six weekly sessions (1,391 members), average weight loss rose to 8.3lbs (3.8kg) or 4.0% of body weight.

More than one in four (27%) of members lost 5% of their body weight or more in the six weeks, which is classed as a clinically significant weight loss and can bring health benefits such as less joint pain, improved mobility, less breathlessness, better sleep, reduced blood pressure and improved management of conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Weight change was similar across age, BMI categories and socioeconomic status, showing that the virtual support was accessible and effective across all communities.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Research and Scientific Affairs at Slimming World
People accessing the invaluable support and community of Slimming World Consultants and groups are getting their weight loss off to a great start.
Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Research and Scientific Affairs at Slimming World

Slimming World’s face-to-face community groups were first closed in March 2020 following the initial Coronavirus outbreak and the organisation developed an innovative virtual service to enable its thousands of self-employed Consultants to continue to support their members and earn a living. While in many areas real-life groups were able to reopen from August onwards, the restrictions throughout autumn and winter, culminating in January’s lockdowns, saw groups return to providing virtual support.

As part of the virtual service, members receive behaviour change guidance to form new healthier eating habits, boost motivation to become more active and, with the shared support of fellow members, remain motivated and focused on their weight-loss goals. Slimming World Consultants who would normally run real-life groups have adapted their support, and members log on at the same time each week via video conferencing, submit their weight on the Slimming World website and benefit from the same friendship, motivation and inspiration as in traditional in-person groups. They also continue to receive access to Slimming World’s members-only website, app and social media support.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Slimming World’s Head of Research and Scientific Affairs who led the evaluation, says: “These results highlight that, despite the difficulties we’re all facing as a result of lockdown restrictions, people accessing the invaluable support and community of Slimming World Consultants and groups – whether that be face-to-face when possible or virtually when needed – are getting their weight loss off to a great start and achieving significant weight loss in their first few weeks. They’re well on their way to achieving that first step of a clinically significant loss of 5% of their weight – some have even achieved this within their first 6 weeks already – which can start to bring many health benefits.

“This is just a sample of Slimming World data from PHE’s Better Health campaign which is still ongoing, and also provides membership to our Slimming World Online programme. These findings show how we’re supporting members to form new healthy habits, make changes and enjoy success despite restrictions, which is more important than ever when we consider the links between obesity and Covid-19 and the impact of lockdown on people’s diet and activity behaviours and mental health.”

Notes to Editors

About Slimming World

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. Members join local weekly groups or an online programme. Groups are run by a network of community-based Slimming World Consultants across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Consultants are trained in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as recognised behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of energy density and satiety. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly-developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating, encouraging and empowering members to make changes in a supportive, warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit slimmingworld.co.uk. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld

About the Better Health campaign

Public Health England’s Better Health campaign provides a wide range of free NHS tools and advice to support healthier habits, including suggestions on how to increase physical activity, make healthier food choices, lose weight, improve mental health and quit smoking. Better Health is also working in partnership with a number of weight management and physical activity partners, including Slimming World, who are providing both free and exclusive discounted offers. To find out more about the campaign visit www.nhs.uk/better-health/