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Are standard behavioral weight loss programs effective for young adults?



To compare the enrollment, attendance, retention and weight losses of young adults in behavioral weight loss (BWL) programs with older participants in the same trials.


Data were pooled from three NIH-funded adult BWL trials from two clinical centers in different regions of the country (total N=298); young adults were defined as those aged 18–35 years. Both young adults and adults were compared on session attendance, retention at the 6-month assessment, weight loss and physical activity at 6 months.


Young adults represented 7% of the sample, attended significantly fewer sessions than did adults (52 vs 74%, respectively; P<0.001) and were less likely to be retained for the 6-month assessment (67 vs 95%, respectively; P<0.05). Controlling for demographic variables, study and baseline weight, the mean weight losses achieved were significantly less for young adults compared with adults (−4.3 kg (6.3) vs −7.7 kg (7.0), respectively; P<0.05); fewer young adults achieved 5% weight loss at 6 months compared with older participants (8/21 (38%) vs 171/277 (62%); P<0.05). After controlling for session attendance, differences in the mean weight loss were not significant (P=0.81). Controlling for baseline values, study and demographics, changes in total physical activity over the initial 6 months of treatment were less for young adults compared with adults, but these differences only approached statistical significance (P=0.07).


These data indicate that standard programs do not meet the weight control needs of young adults. Research is urgently required to improve recruitment and retention efforts with this high-risk group.

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We acknowledge the funding support related to this paper: Grants R01HL77082 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to Dr Gorin, R01DK074721 from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases to Dr Raynor, as well as R01DK064596 from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases and R01CA116849 from the National Cancer Institute, both to Dr Jeffery. The preparation of this paper was supported in part by National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute grant T32 HL076134–01A2 (PI: Wing) and K23DK083440 from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases to Dr Gokee-LaRose. Additional salary support for this work was provided by the National Cancer Institute K07CA126837 (PI: Nelson Laska).

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Gokee-LaRose, J., Gorin, A., Raynor, H. et al. Are standard behavioral weight loss programs effective for young adults?. Int J Obes 33, 1374–1380 (2009).

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  • young adults
  • behavioral weight loss
  • emerging adulthood

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