Success Seen in Weight-Loss Program

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An unusually disciplined, long-term weight loss program helped participants following it lose nearly one-fifth their original weight and keep it off five years, researchers found.

The Trevose Behavior Modification Program, serving about 1,200 people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, is the first weight loss program in the country proven to work long term, according to researchers at Rutgers University and University of Pennsylvania. Their study appears in July's International Journal of Obesity.

While most people eventually quit or were booted out of the free program for not following the strict rules, the study found those staying in two years on average lost 19.3 percent of their original weight. At five years, they were still 17.3 percent lighter than their original weight.

``A program where five years later 10 percent of the people are within 95 percent of their (weight loss) goal is pretty amazing,'' said Rena Wing, a psychology professor and director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Brown University.

Wing, who was not involved in the research but is a member of the National Task Force on Prevention and Treatment of Obesity, cautioned that it is difficult to evaluate the program because ``failures'' are kicked out.

``It looks like a good option for some patients,'' she said.

By comparison, members lost 2.4 times as much weight in two years as patients in a study of the diet pill Orlistat. Even the Trevose dropouts contacted kept off 5 percent of their original weight for five years.

Unlike plans using diet pills or fad diets, the program encourages gradual weight loss through good nutrition, constant calorie counting, exercise, weekly weighings and support groups.

Other programs use such behavior modification techniques, but are less strict. Participants can be dismissed if they miss meetings or don't meet the goals they set based on the healthy weight range for their height, or if they don't permanently maintain at least 90 percent of that loss.

The volunteer-run program, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Trevose, was founded in 1970 by Dr. Albert Stunkard, director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's obesity research clinic, and David Zelitch, who lost nearly 100 pounds and kept it off until his death in 1998.

Today, the program operates in 62 locations in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and Pompano Beach, Fla., with a total of 108 groups of about 10 meeting weekly in ``donated'' space at schools, churches and synagogues, hospitals and similar locations. Past success stories serve as new group leaders or role models. Most groups have a waiting list, but a few new ones are starting soon, said program director Mary Jackson of Philadelphia, who lost more than 80 pounds on the program and has kept it off for 25 years.

``It's a very slow weight loss,'' Jackson said. ``Our experience is the people who lose weight quickly are the ones who gain it back.''

The study examined data on 329 people who applied to the program's main location in 1992 and 1993. Many either changed their minds or were rejected because they didn't meet certain criteria, such as needing to lose 20 pounds to 100 pounds.

Of the 202 who started the program, 105 completed the first year, 59 were still in after three years and 39 completed five years.

Peak weight loss came at 30 months, about five times longer than most diet plans last, said Janet Latner, a Rutgers graduate student in psychology who was the lead researcher. She found three factors predicted success.

``The more months you were in treatment, the more you lose; the more you lost the first month, the more you lose; and the heavier you were to start, the more you lose,'' Latner said.

Her adviser, behavioral psychology professor Terry Wilson, who directs Rutgers' Eating Disorders Clinic, said while more study is needed, the program is a promising model that could be replicated. He noted that it emphasizes improving health, not appearance, something greatly needed because the U.S. obesity epidemic is causing more diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening disorders.

Wilson and Latner said obesity researchers increasingly are concluding ``continuing care is the way to go.''

Participants agree.

``You're not dieting. You're eating this way the rest of your life. That's why Trevose works,'' said Helene Lees, 60, of Cherry Hill. The 5-foot-3 dietitian has maintained a 25-pound loss for nine years, become a group leader and retrained for her current profession. She budgets her daily calorie allowance to have desserts or chocolate occasionally. ``I feel fabulous.''

Like Lees, bank teller Gail Whitworth, 59, of Northeast Philadelphia had gone through commercial weight loss programs a dozen times without success.

``I've kept my weight off (about 30 pounds) for seven years,'' she said. ``I eat very healthy now, but I still snack.''

Her husband is ``thrilled to death. He knows what I've struggled through and he can't believe it,'' Whitworth said. ``I can't speak highly enough about the program.''


On the Net:

Trevose Behavior Modification Program:

National Institutes of Health:—home.htm


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Some 97 million American adults, or 55 percent, are considered overweight or obese.

According to the National Institutes of Health, this epidemic of obesity, which is also a growing problem among children, costs nearly $100 billion annually. That includes costs for weight loss treatment and treatment of many serious health problems caused by obesity.

Overweight people are at increased risk of illness from:

—high blood pressure and other heart disease

—adult-onset diabetes


—gallbladder disease


—certain cancers

—lipid disorders

—respiratory problems

—sleep apnea, a disorder that primarily strikes overweight men, causing them to repeatedly stop breathing while sleeping. Besides causing fatigue, it decreases the amount of oxygen and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood and brain.

NIH says all those risks apply to people with excessive abdominal fat — meaning a waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men and more than 35 inches in women — and people with a body mass index of 25 or more.

Someone with a body mass index of 30 or more, the level considered obese, is about 30 pounds overweight — roughly 221 pounds in a 6-foot person or 186 pounds in a 5-foot-6 person.