A major challenge following successful weight loss is continuing the behaviors required for long-term weight maintenance. This challenge may be exacerbated in rural areas with limited local support resources.
This study describes and compares program costs and cost-effectiveness for 12-month extended care lifestyle maintenance programs following an initial 6-month weight loss program.
A 1-year prospective controlled randomized clinical trial.
The study included 215 female participants age 50 or older from rural areas who completed an initial 6-month lifestyle program for weight loss. The study was conducted from June 1, 2003, to May 31, 2007.
The intervention was delivered through local Cooperative Extension Service offices in rural Florida. Participants were randomly-assigned to a 12-month extended care program using either individual telephone counseling (n=67), group face-to-face counseling (n=74), or a mail/control group (n=74).
Main Outcome Measures
Program delivery costs, weight loss, and self-reported health status were directly assessed through questionnaires and program activity logs. Costs were estimated across a range of enrollment sizes to allow inferences beyond the study sample.
Statistical Analyses Performed
Non-parametric and parametric tests of differences across groups for program outcomes were combined with direct program cost estimates and expected value calculations to determine which scales of operation favored alternative formats for lifestyle maintenance.
Median weight regain during the intervention year was 1.7 kg for participants in the face-to-face format, 2.1 kg for the telephone format, and 3.1 kg for the mail/control format. For a typical group size of 13 participants, the face-to-face format had higher fixed costs, which translated into higher overall program costs ($420 per participant) when compared to individual telephone counseling ($268 per participant) and control ($226 per participant) programs. While the net weight lost after the 12-month maintenance program was higher for the face-to-face and telephone programs compared to the control group, the average cost per expected kilogram of weight lost was higher for the face-to-face program ($47/kg) compared to the other two programs (approximately $33/kg for telephone and control).
Both the scale of operations and local demand for programs are important considerations in selecting a delivery format for lifestyle maintenance. In this study, the telephone format had a lower cost, but similar outcomes compared to the face-to-face format.