Adding this 1 thing to primary care helped patients with obesity lose weight

When researchers at Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan wanted to support more primary care patients in their weight loss journeys, they didn't just add the lucrative new Wegovy or Ozempic treatments to the mix.

Instead, they added a person to primary care visits, someone who is an expert in weight loss, and it worked, according to the study, which was published May 21 in JAMA.

Researchers identified 264 high-risk patients experiencing obesity and split them into two groups. Half were placed into its pilot primary care–based weight navigation program, and the other half were not. 

The patients enrolled in the weight navigational program lost on average 4.4% of their body weight and were more likely to achieve even 5% or 10% or more total weight loss compared to the control group after 12 months.  

The study was prompted by what the authors note is a knowledge "gap" in primary care when it comes to obesity. This is something that has been echoed in the past by other physicians who have said they received little to no obesity training during medical school and want that to improve for future physicians.

The designated weight program experts — who are referred to by the study authors as "diplomats" of the American Board of Obesity Medicine — work with patients on various weight management techniques and provide weight-focused consultation visits and support patients' selection of preference-sensitive therapies.

Having these additional experts at their disposal, along with their normal primary care, allowed patients to have one or more visits with the experts throughout the 12-month period. Overall, the researchers dubbed this a "promising model to improve obesity treatment in primary care settings" that also  "warrants rigorous evaluation in a large-scale randomized clinical trial with longer-term assessment of outcomes and determinants of implementation." 

While anti-obesity medications like Wegovy were available during the trial, the researchers found "no statistically significant difference in [anti-obesity medication] prescribing between the [weight navigational program] and control groups." However, the authors note that this may be partially because of their lack of initial capacity to maintain multiple follow-up visits with the experts. 

The experts at the University of Michigan are next working to refine the program and expand its capabilities to include more support for prescribing of these medications, as well as to include more population health management strategies.

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