U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) researcher Ben Gerber, MD, MPH, with the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, says regular 30-minute targeted phone calls from a trainer can result in significant weight loss for individuals with disabilities. The finding is from a study Gerber worked on, the results of which were published in the December 2013 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medical & Rehabilitation. The study involved more than 100 participants, each with a mobility-limiting disability. The conditions included spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, stroke, and lupus.
Gerber said providers often don’t know exactly what to tell patients with disabilities about exercise.
“From a provider’s perspective, we might tell a patient to walk 30 minutes a day or to eat a certain kind of diet, but for someone with paraplegia, that recommendation becomes a lot more complicated,” he said. “There also might be competing health priorities.”
All that is part of why people with disabilities have a 66 percent higher rate of obesity than the general population. Intrigued by the challenge, the researchers set out to develop a program to make exercise-and weight loss-more practical and attainable for individuals with disabilities.
The researchers randomly assigned the 100 study participants to one of three groups. One group received a physical-activity toolkit along with regular calls from coaches who used a web-based remote coaching tool. A second group received the toolkit, the phone coaching, and nutritional advice. The third group received the physical-activity toolkit only after the study completed and no phone coaching. For four months, those receiving calls were contacted weekly to develop a plan, monitor progress, and troubleshoot any barriers. The calls dropped to every other week after that. At seven months, the calls came only monthly. After nine months, those receiving phone coaching had lost, on average, nearly five pounds. Participants who also received nutritional advice lost an additional pound. The control group participants gained five to six pounds, on average.
Gerber noted that the approach may be a way to reduce not only weight, but healthcare costs. However, work remains. Among other tasks, researchers and clinicians have to develop appropriate weight guidelines for those with certain disabilities.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the VA.