press release
Published: 06 January 2020

Commercial weight management groups could support women to manage their weight after giving birth

By Natasha Meredith

Women who were overweight at the start of their pregnancy would welcome support after they have given birth in the form of commercial weight management groups, a new study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reports.

Pregnant women standing in a row holding their bellies
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The conclusions come from a feasibility study by the Warwick Clinical Trials Unit and the University of Surrey, which aimed to assess if commercial weight management groups could help women who were overweight (classed as a BMI of ≥25kg/m2) when they became pregnant to return to a more healthy weight after giving birth. This feasibility study, funded by the NIHR, aimed to determine whether it would be possible to recruit women to a future larger clinical trial of weight management programmes and if they were likely to see a benefit from attending. 

The researchers found that women who attended weight management groups which they could start from 8 to 16 weeks  after giving birth lost slightly more weight (around 3kgs) as assessed at 12 months postnatally, than those women not offered access to groups, with those who attended more of the 12 group sessions offered experiencing the greatest weight loss.

The researchers argue that this suggests that women could benefit in health terms from attending a commercially available weight management programme post pregnancy, and a larger clinical trial should now be conducted to determine the definitive health and other benefits of such a programme and the cost effectiveness to the health service.

To investigate whether a weight management programme could help women who’ve had a baby to better manage their weight, the researchers recruited 193 women with BMIs greater than 25 when they became pregnant and randomly assigned them to either a commercially available weight management group, in this case Slimming World, with a lifestyle information leaflet, or to receive standard NHS maternity care only. All women were recruited from a large inner city maternity unit in the South of England.

Professor Debra Bick, from the University of Warwick’s Clinical Trials Unit, said: “We now need to find out if commercial weight management programmes are both clinically effective and cost effective when offered to women who have given birth in the previous three to four months. While it is difficult to predict the economics in the long term, this could save money for the health service by preventing poor health in the long term. If we can confirm that commercial programmes are successful in a future clinical trial then this is an intervention that the NHS should seriously consider for women who are overweight or obese before pregnancy.”

Dr Cath Taylor, Reader in Healthcare Workforce Organisation and Wellbeing at the University of Surrey, said: “Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is important for all post-natal women, not only is it better for their overall wellbeing it enables them to be more active with their children and helps incorporate healthy habits and choices into their household.

“It is clear from our findings that weight management groups may be helpful for weight loss in postnatal women, which is beneficial to them and their families, however some are hesitant in starting and/or continuing with such programmes. We investigated the reasons for this and found that many barriers could be easily addressed, for example misconceptions about the safety of Slimming World whilst breastfeeding.  We will address such barriers in our future study and thereby hope to further enhance uptake and retention, and thereby the benefits of the intervention.”

Previous research has shown that commercial weight management programmes have been more effective in helping individuals with higher BMIs to lose weight than health service provided ones. In this study, the researchers made no changes to the weight management programme offered and found that the participants responded positively to the flexible timings, the opportunity to mix with other group attendees and the opportunity to take their babies with them.  Women were able to attend 12 weekly sessions, with the support offered incorporating dietary advice suited to breastfeeding and promoting physical activity.

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