Reality Check: BBC’s TV Show Diet Trials Gives the Scoop on What Works

Healthnotes Newswire (July 13, 2006)—Sticking to a diet plan and getting regular exercise make the best recipe for weight loss—or so finds the British Broadcasting Corporation’s reality series Diet Trials.

“Lifestyle changes over the past 50 years have had an enormous impact on our waistlines,” says Lyndel Costain, author of the book Diet Trials, companion to the television series. People today walk less, drive more, and spend more time watching television—all of which can contribute to weight gain.

According to the American Obesity Association, more than 64% of Americans over age 20 are overweight or obese, which increases the risk that they will end up with high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, gallbladder disease, and certain cancers. Diet Trials aimed to determine which of the four most popular weight-loss diets in the United Kingdom would result in the most—and the longest-lasting—weight loss.

In cooperation with researchers from the University of Surrey and four other academic institutions, producers at the BBC said they were “looking for people who were willing to go on a diet, and willing to be filmed doing it.” The BBC covered the cost of the first six months of the study; after that, people could choose to continue the diets at their own expense.

The new show’s preliminary findings, reported by the British Medical Journal, were based on data gathered about 300 overweight people who were assigned to one of five groups for six months: the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, Rosemary Conley’s plan, or a no-diet control group.

Briefly, the Atkins diet is very low in carbohydrates with an emphasis on calories from protein and fat; Weight Watchers uses weekly support meetings and a “point system” that allows any food to be eaten as long as the total daily points are kept in a certain range; Slim-Fast uses a meal-replacement beverage to cut calories; and Rosemary Conley’s plan combines a low-fat diet with weekly exercise sessions.

Each of the diets led to substantial weight loss—about 13 pounds on average—compared with the control group. People in the Atkins group lost the most weight initially, but after six months the differences between the dieting groups were negligible.

More people quit dieting when they followed an “unsupported” diet, such as Atkins or Slim-Fast. The people in these groups were also more likely to gain back the weight after dieting than were people in “supported” programs like Weight Watchers, suggesting that group support in the form of weekly meetings and exercise sessions is a vital component of any weight-loss strategy.

The Atkins diet, despite its potential to cause bone loss and put stress on the kidneys, did not appear to be harmful in the new study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity in the United States has dramatically increased over the past 20 years, and increases have been seen in Great Britain as well. Diet Trials drives home the message: getting physically active and adhering to a diet is the best way to shed those extra pounds.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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