It's easier to tell people to eat healthy and exercise than to lay out a custom fitness plan. However, a lifestyle change strategy may be more effective than advice alone.
Adults at risk for diabetes participated in a trial on lifestyle interventions with a dietitian.
The researchers found that the participants who regularly met with a dietitian lost more weight, and kept it off, than the participants who received general advice on healthy living.
Raj Bhopal, DSc, of the Centre for Population Health Sciences, led the study.
The research focused on south Asians, a group that frequently develops type 2 diabetes, according to the authors of the study.
The trial was conducted in two regions of Scotland. The researchers recruited 171 Indian and Pakistani adults who had a larger than average waist size and impaired glucose tolerance. Impaired glucose tolerance indicates that the body has a difficult time regulating blood sugar levels and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Each of the participants was part of a "family cluster," or a group of relatives in the household who also wanted to participate in the study.
Of the 171 participants, 85 participants (78 families) were part of the intervention group while 86 participants (78 families) were assigned to the control group.
The participants and family clusters in the intervention group consulted with a dietitian 15 times over three years. The dietitians talked to the families about healthy weight loss through diet and exercise. The intervention group participants were also given pedometers, which count the number of steps the wearer takes per day, and invited to annual group meetings that included exercise.
The control group met with a dietitian four times over three years. The control group family clusters received advice on healthy eating, preventing diabetes, and exercising more.
Each participant had their health information, including body measurements and blood samples, taken at the one, two, and three year mark.
After the trial period, researchers found that the participants in the intervention group lost more weight after one year and sustained their weight loss through the end of the trial.
The control group lost weight initially, but gained weight overall by the end of the third year.
21 participants in the intervention group lost five percent or more of their body weight, while only four participants in the control group did the same.
By the three-year mark, the participants in the intervention group were physically active for about 175 minutes per day. The control group was active for 120 minutes per day.
Fewer participants in the intervention group developed diabetes, but the difference was not statistically significant.
The researchers concluded that, while both the intervention and control groups increased their amount of physical activity, the participants meeting with the dietitian more frequently lost more weight and kept it off.
They suggested that a specific, moderate-intensity intervention plan was more successful than general advice on healthy living.
The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology on December 23.
The research was supported by the National Prevention Research Initiative and other health organizations. One of the researchers received grants or worked for pharmaceutical groups.