A 12-week, automated online weight-loss program implemented in a large primary care network lead to clinically significant weight loss among participants, researchers noted in a poster presentation at the 39th Annual Meeting of The Obesity Society (TOS) at ObesityWeek® 2021.

“Primary care is often where obesity is first diagnosed but clinicians often have few cost-effective resources to offer patients for weight loss. Automated online programs have the potential to fill that gap,” reported Graham Thomas, PhD, of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Brown University Alpert Medical Center in Providence, RI.

“Automated online adaptation of lifestyle treatment has tremendous potential to reach large numbers of patients at low cost when implemented in primary care,” the study authors said. “Our research team has developed an online lifestyle treatment program for use in the primary care setting.”

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The researchers tested the effectiveness of Rx Weight Loss, which was independently implemented in over 60 primary care clinics in a state-wide primary care organization in Rhode Island. All consenting and eligible participants aged 18 to 75 years with a BMI of more than 25 received access to the 12-week Rx Weight Loss online program (Figure).

Figure. Screenshot of the Rx Weight Loss program. <I>Credit: Graham Thomas, PhD</I>

A total of 464 provider-referred participants (70% women; 94% White) enrolled in the program and entered at least 1 weight after starting the program. The 12-week program included 3 key components:

  • Weekly online lessons
  • Submission of self-monitored weight, energy intake, and physical activity data
  • Personalized, automated feedback each week

Clinically Significant Weight Loss Found

The mean weight loss at the end of the 12-week program was 5.1% (SE=0.2), the study authors reported. Patients submitted their weight a mean of 7.8 out of the 12 weeks and accessed lessons 6.5 out of 12 weeks. Additionally, 37% of participants submitted their weight for all 12 weeks and 20% accessed all 12 lessons.

Patients with high engagement (ie, submitted their weight throughout all 12 weeks) achieved more than twice the amount of weight loss compared to those who submitted their weight less frequently (7.2% vs 3.4%, respectively). “Similarly, those who accessed all 12 lessons lost an estimated 8% of initial body weight vs 4% in those watching fewer lessons,” said the study authors.

The 5% weight loss seen in this study is consistent with national guidelines for minimum clinically significant weight loss for first-line treatment programs, noted the authors. Additional research is needed to build strategies to engage participants from communities that lack resources and are overburdened, the study authors concluded.


Thomas G, Panza E, Espel-Huynh H, et al. 12-week weight loss in automated online obesity treatment implemented pragmatically in primary care. Poster presented at: ObesityWeek® 2021; November 1-5, 2021.