Background: Evidence exist that primary care referral to an open-group behavioural programme is an effective strategy for management of obesity, but little evidence on optimal intervention duration is available. We aimed to establish whether 52-week referral to an open-group weight-management programme would achieve greater weight loss and improvements in a range of health outcomes and be more cost-effective than the current practice of 12-week referrals.
Methods: In this non-blinded, parallel-group, randomised controlled trial, we recruited participants who were aged 18 years or older and had body-mass index (BMI) of 28 kg/m2 or higher from 23 primary care practices in England. Participants were randomly assigned (2:5:5) to brief advice and self-help materials, a weight-management programme (Weight Watchers) for 12 weeks, or the same weight-management programme for 52 weeks. We followed-up participants over 2 years. The primary outcome was weight at 1 year of follow-up, analysed with mixed-effects models according to intention-to-treat principles and adjusted for centre and baseline weight. In a hierarchical closed-testing procedure, we compared combined behavioural programme arms with brief intervention, then compared the 12-week programme and 52-week programme. We did a within-trial cost-effectiveness analysis using person-level data and modelled outcomes over a 25-year time horizon using microsimulation. This study is registered with Current Controlled Trials, number ISRCTN82857232.
Findings: Between Oct 18, 2012, and Feb 10, 2014, we enrolled 1269 participants. 1267 eligible participants were randomly assigned to the brief intervention (n=211), the 12-week programme (n=528), and the 52-week programme (n=528). Two participants in the 12-week programme had been found to be ineligible shortly after randomisation and were excluded from the analysis. 823 (65%) of 1267 participants completed an assessment at 1 year and 856 (68%) participants at 2 years. All eligible participants were included in the analyses. At 1 year, mean weight changes in the groups were −3·26 kg (brief intervention), −4·75 kg (12-week programme), and −6·76 kg (52-week programme). Participants in the behavioural programme lost more weight than those in the brief intervention (adjusted difference −2·71 kg, 95% CI −3·86 to −1·55; p<0·0001). The 52-week programme was more effective than the 12-week programme (−2·14 kg, −3·05 to −1·22; p<0·0001). Differences between groups were still significant at 2 years. No adverse events related to the intervention were reported. Over 2 years, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER; compared with brief intervention) was £159 per kg lost for the 52-week programme and £91 per kg for the 12-week programme. Modelled over 25 years after baseline, the ICER for the 12-week programme was dominant compared with the brief intervention. The ICER for the 52-week programme was cost-effective compared with the brief intervention (£2394 per quality-adjusted life-year [QALY]) and the 12-week programme (£3804 per QALY).
Interpretation: For adults with overweight or obesity, referral to this open-group behavioural weight-loss programme for at least 12 weeks is more effective than brief advice and self-help materials. A 52-week programme produces greater weight loss and other clinical benefits than a 12-week programme and, although it costs more, modelling suggests that the 52-week programme is cost-effective in the longer term.