Enhancing Online Weight-Management Programs for Rural Residents: Adding a Human Touch

Published on November 16, 2023, 12:53 am

Enhancing Online Weight-Management Programs for Rural Residents: Adding a Human Touch

Public health researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the University of South Carolina are embarking on an innovative study aimed at enhancing online behavioral weight-management programs for obese rural residents. By adding a human touch to these programs, the researchers hope to improve their effectiveness in promoting weight loss among this population.

To support this endeavor, the two schools have secured a substantial $3.37 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. This funding will enable them to conduct comprehensive research and investigate how digital interventions, combined with weekly group video sessions and individual coaching calls, can optimize weight loss programs for individuals residing in rural areas.

According to Dr. Becca Krukowski, a public health researcher at UVA and one of the principal investigators involved in the project, losing as little as 5% to 7% of body weight can significantly reduce obesity-associated comorbidities. However, she highlights that access to effective weight management programs is limited in rural communities.

The study aims to enroll over 600 participants in a new online program called iREACH, which spans a period of 24 weeks. Recruitment for volunteers has already commenced, with the program set to launch after January 1st, 2024. Through this research initiative, Dr. Krukowski hopes to determine the most effective combination of treatment approaches that will yield optimal weight loss results and sustainment for rural residents.

Dr. Krukowski also emphasizes that there is existing evidence indicating that adding a human component to online obesity-treatment programs can enhance their efficacy. By further exploring this idea through their research efforts, they aim to provide concrete answers on how best to enhance these programs for individuals living in rural areas.

The statistics surrounding obesity in the United States are alarming: more than 130 million Americans are overweight or obese. Moreover, people residing in rural regions experience disproportionately higher rates of obesity and chronic illnesses associated with weight gain. This underlines the urgency to address this issue and develop tailored programs that are accessible and effective for rural communities.

Dr. Krukowski sees the iREACH study as not only an opportunity for rural residents to access state-of-the-art behavioral weight loss programs but also as a chance to contribute to scientific knowledge in this field. By participating in the study, individuals can play an active role in shaping future interventions and potentially improve the health outcomes of countless others facing similar challenges.

The collaboration between these two esteemed institutions, coupled with the generous grant from the National Institutes of Health, signifies a significant step forward in addressing the weight management needs of obese individuals residing in rural areas. By leveraging technology and incorporating human support into online programs, researchers hope to pave the way for more accessible and effective solutions to combat obesity-related health issues.