UAMS Tests Internet Against Traditional Obesity Programs

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – A five-year study at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will determine how a weight loss program delivered via the Internet stacks up against the most effective in-person programs delivered in group settings, such as Weight Watchers.


Overseen by Delia West, Ph.D., at the UAMS College of Public Health, researchers will track five waves of participants – 288 in all – for 18 months each before concluding in 2010. The $3.7 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is being done in collaboration with the University of Vermont.


“The in-person behavioral weight loss program is our gold standard right now,” said West, director of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Program and professor in the college’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education. “We know it works, and we know how it works. If we can demonstrate that the Internet has the same or even better results than in person, the opportunities for a rural state like Arkansas are tremendous.”


West said she hopes the study will provide a definitive answer one way or the other.


“Because the Internet has become so entrenched in people’s lives, many have assumed that it could be effective for a weight loss program,” West said. “If it turns out the Internet is not an effective way to help people with obesity, then we can focus on other methods of helping people lose weight.” 


Obesity, along with tobacco use and a lack of exercise, is one of the leading causes of death and disability.


Each wave of participants is being randomly assigned to three groups. One group will become part of an in-person only weight control program; one group will attend in-person sessions as well as Internet sessions, and the third group will be served by only the Internet.


A primary intervention for Internet users will be to chat among participants and a weight loss interventionist. The Web site will include portraits of each and the participants will be able to see the person who is typing. The Web site also will include self-help tools, such as calorie counters and exercise calculators. 


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 9,400 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.5 billion a year. For more information, visit