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The NHS weight-loss programme: what you need to know

Are you curious about the recent headlines on NHS weight loss programmes? Here is our simple overview, based on a detailed and thorough review by Dr Zoe Harcombe, obesity researcher





Last year, NHS England launched its first digital weight loss programme, and now the results are in.

  • Over 63,000 people were referred by their doctors to join the 12-week programme, aiming to eat a more healthy diet and get moving.

  • Only about half took the plunge, and only one in five completed the full programme.

  • The study aimed to find out who's signing up, who's sticking with it, and if it actually works.

  • The programme had three different levels of support: Level 1 = self-guided digital content, plus optional participantion in group support sessions; Level 2 = additional 50 minutes of one to one coaching; Level 3 = additional up to 100 minutes of coaching.

Who signed up?

  • About half of those referred actually joined, and it didn't matter much which level they were offered.

  • Completion rates were lower, with only about a third finishing the whole programme.

Equal access?

  • There were differences in who joined based on age, sex, ethnicity, and economic status, but this doesn't necessarily mean the programme was unfair. It might just reflect different attitudes toward weight loss.

  • Completion rates were more balanced across demographics.

Did it work?

  • On average, participants lost about 3.9 kg (around 8.6 lbs) if they completed the course, and 2.2 kg (about 4.8 lbs) if they accepted the invite but didn't finish.

  • But, keep in mind, the more you weigh at the start, the more you can lose. Still, any weight loss is a step in the right direction!

Provider performance

  • Some providers were better at getting people on board and keeping them there. Second Nature stood out for both uptake and completion rates, while others struggled.

  • Weight loss varied by provider too, with Second Nature leading the pack again.


Why the low numbers?

Partly it seems because not everyone was thrilled with the advice they got. Some felt that the tips were basic and didn't address their needs. And many were sceptical about yet another diet plan.


The results

While the average weight loss might seem small, it can still have health benefits, like lowering blood pressure. But, there's no info on the cost of running these programmes or if the weight loss lasts long-term.


Free doesn't always mean valuable

The programmes were free for people to take part in, but some think that might have devalued them in people's eyes. The programme had some wins and some challenges. While it's not a magic bullet, any step toward a healthier lifestyle is a step in the right direction.


As Dr Zoe Harcombe says at the end of her review:

"The single biggest difference that Public Health England could make would be to ditch the carb-rich, nutrient poor 'Eat Well Plate' which was designed by the fake food invitation at PHE's invitation and replace that with advice to eat real food, to prioritise nutrient-dense foods (meat, fish, eggs, dairu) and to eat no more than three times a day and far more difference could be made to far more people with no programmes needed."


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