Slimming groups not diets will help UAE shed obesity problem, say experts

Studies have proved that people who go to support groups lose more weight so doctors and dietitians are being encouraged to refer overweight and obese people to such groups.

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Losing extra kilograms means lifestyle changes, not fad diets, and group sessions motivate and support would-be slimmers to adopt and maintain the needed dietary and exercise regimes.

DUBAI // Slimming support groups rather than DIY diets could be a novel solution to the UAE’s obesity crisis, experts say.

They believe doctors and dietitians should refer people whose body-mass index (BMI) is above normal to regular weight-loss group sessions to teach them life-long good habits – and having sessions covered by insurance could provide the incentive to attend.

“The support group approach can help to keep people motivated and educate them about healthy eating,” said Carole Holditch, who founded slimming support group Good Habits UAE when she moved to Dubai 20 years ago.

“A slimming group will add ­accountability and weekly ­motivation and these are very important while trying to make any changes in your life.

“Being with like-minded people with a common goal will also help, rather than feeling you are on your own.”

Dr Fawad Khan, family medicine consultant and medical director of Al Noor Abu Dhabi medical centres, said slimming groups were more effective than attempting to diet alone.

“There is enough clinical evidence to support the importance of dietary modification and regular exercise to lose weight,” he said. “When compared to DIY diets, it’s better to follow an organised diet programme.”

An incentive to encourage people to attend – and stick at – slimming support groups would be by having the attendance fee covered under health insurance schemes, he said.

Dr Fuad Ahmed, a consultant in general surgery at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, also advocated the use of slimming groups.

“We need these groups,” he said. “They will help to encourage lifestyle changes.”

Referrals to slimming groups could help to prevent cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, both of which can be triggered by being overweight or obese, before it is too late, Dr Ahmed said. They can also help those, for example, who have undergone bariatric surgery and need to follow through with a lifestyle shake-up, he said.

Rashi Chowdhary, a nutrition and inch-loss expert, agreed. “If you are a victim of bad eating habits, poor lifestyle and have a sedentary way of living, then a support group will definitely help,” she said.

Classes benefit “someone who is always making excuses and for those who are yo-yo ­dieters”, she said, because weight-loss groups are motivational.

Ms Holditch said slimming groups have proved to be an effective, and cost-effective, obesity treatment in the UK and could have similar benefits here.

Research has found that people who attend weekly slimming support sessions lose more than those who simply try dieting on their own or those who receive weight-loss advice from their GP.

"Since 2007 the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has referred overweight patients to commercial slimming clubs to help them lose weight and a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2011 suggested that this works," Ms Holditch said. "Researchers from the University of Birmingham compared NHS with commercial weight-loss programmes such as Weight Watchers, Rosemary Conley and Slimming World.

“Half of the 740 patients were referred to slimming clubs and the other half to NHS initiatives.

“They found that after 12 weeks the greatest weight loss was 4.4 kilograms from the patients sent to Weight Watchers and the lowest was 1.4kg from those provided with programmes from their GP.”

Another study published in The Lancet in 2011 found patients on a Weight Watchers course lost twice as much weight as those who received nutritional advice only from their GP.

The World Health Organisation's World Health Statistics 2015 report, classifies 45.1 per cent of the UAE's female residents and 33.8 per cent of men over the age of 18 as obese.