The Effect of a “Maintain, Don’t Gain” Approach to Weight Management on Depression Among Black Women: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial

An intervention program aimed at helping obese women maintain their weight without adding pounds also significantly reduced depression in nearly half the participants, according to a new study. The study cites past research showing that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, and more than one in seven black women will suffer major depression.

The study was conducted with 185 low-income black women ages 25-44, each with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 35, who were receiving primary care at five community health centers in central North Carolina.

The program used software built by Duke researchers that personalized a weight-gain prevention intervention called the Shape Program for each of the 91 women in one of two groups. The intervention group tracked behavioral goals (i.e., no fast food) each week for 12 months via automated phone calls. Each participant also had monthly calls with a personal health coach and some took advantage of a YMCA membership.

The other 94 participants were randomly placed in a control group that received usual care from their physicians.

At the start of the 12-month study, 19 percent of intervention participants and 21 percent of usual-care women reported moderate to severe depression.

But after 12 months, just 11 percent of intervention participants said they were still depressed, compared to 19 percent receiving usual care. At 18 months, 10 percent of the intervention group said they were depressed, while the usual-care group remained at 19 percent, according to the study.

These findings were not related to how well the women did in the weight management program nor whether they were taking depression medication.

“Interventions that focus on maintaining your weight, not just losing weight, may have more widespread effects,” said lead author Dori Steinberg, a research scholar with the Duke Digital Health Science Center. “It is exciting that we improved depression among a population that is severely socioeconomically disadvantaged and has limited access to depression treatment. The reductions we saw in depression are comparable to what is seen with traditional approaches like counseling or medication treatment.”

Population of focus: Low-income black women ages 25-44 in central North Carolina

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Date: 2014

Journal: American Journal of Public Health