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GP involvement boosts patients' perceptions of commercial weight loss programmes

A GP referral to attend commercial weight loss programmes, funded by the NHS through weekly vouchers, can improve patient perceptions and motivation to pursue weight loss interventions, research has found.

A qualitative study, published today in the British Journal of General Practice, found that introducing ‘symbolic’ interactions with the NHS helped patients to frame their weight loss as a necessary medical intervention, rather than an aesthetic goal or a ‘luxury’.

This impact was additionally strengthened by providing weekly vouchers as this maintained a link with the GP throughout the programme, and added a sense of responsibility to use NHS funding appropriately.

One male patient said they were conscious about not being seen to fail their GP after receiving funding, they said: ‘It would be rather embarrassing to be perfectly honest to go to a weight-loss thing and say “Yeah [bangs table for emphasis] thank you for the free Weight Watchers things but I just didn’t bother!” … I don’t want to let the doctors down.’

Continued communication with the GP about the progress of any weight loss also motivated patients.

One participant reported by the study said: ‘[The researcher] said “You’ve lost 15 centimetres which means you’re out of the danger zone, you’ve reduced to negligible your chance of getting diabetes”. That one fact was much more easy for me to digest … and hold on to.’

This comes as Pulse reported public health managers are looking to introduce new QOF objectives which would incentivise GPs to put patients through weight loss programmes.

The wider trial, that today’s study forms part of, will look at whether commercial weight loss services are more effective than the current NHS interventions.

Br J Gen Pract 2015; available online 30 March

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