NHS online weight loss programme highlighted as a success in new study

The NHS Digital Weight Management Programme is helping patients referred to the service to lose over 8 pounds, new research shows today.  

new peer reviewed paper, published today in The Obesity Journal, shows that 63,937 people were referred to the scheme in its first year with 50% taking up the offer and enrolling onto the service.   

A total of 14,268 of those then went on to complete the programme (April 2021 to March 2022), with people who completed it losing an impressive 3.9kg or 8.59lbs over 12 weeks.  

The 12-week online plan offers diet and physical activity advice, as well as guidance and support to help achieve a healthy lifestyle with boosted participation thanks to easy access on an app or online. 

Of the 31,718 people who started the initiative, including those who did not complete, the average weight loss was still 2.2kg or 4.85lbs.   

More than a third of the referrals were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds with the data clearly showing it is helping those from deprived backgrounds, as well as those affected by health inequalities and at a higher risk of adverse outcomes associated with obesity.  

Of the total referrals (63,937), 57% of were women with an average age of 57 years. Over three quarters (77%) of those referred were aged 40 to 69.   

People are eligible for referral on to the 12-week programme if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more – lowered to 27.5 for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnicities – and are diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, or both.   

Eligible people are triaged into 3 intervention levels, with more intensive support targeted at people with higher levels of risk – level 1 provides self-guided digital content and optional participation in group support sessions; the next level offers an additional 50 minutes of 1:1 coaching; and level 3 increases this to 100 mins of 1:1 personal coaching.   

The paper found that incorporating digital delivery weight management services could increase reach and enhance overall effectiveness. As of March 2024, over 358,000 referrals had been made to the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme.  

The programme is part of a raft of NHS measures which aim to support people to prevent or reduce incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity – from the world leading type 2 diabetes prevention programme to the soups and shakes diets, which aim to put type 2 diabetes in remission in people who are newly diagnosed. 

NHS National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, Dr Clare Hambling said: “These results are extremely encouraging and show that by combining the effectiveness of existing weight management services with an easy to access service available on your phone or computer, more people can be supported to improve their health. 

“While this study looked at the initial 64,000 patients referred in the programme’s first year, we have now seen more than 358,000 referrals by GPs and it’s very encouraging to see so many people benefit from the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme”.

Public Health Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said: “We know that two thirds of adults are overweight or living with obesity, so I am delighted to see how effective the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme is in helping people living with obesity to lose weight and improve their health. 

“Services like this one are a vital tool for improving public health and easing pressures on our NHS from complex conditions”. 

Stevie Marshall, aged 34, who found the programme helped manage his weight loss journey with a busy lifestyle, said: “I found it easy to use the app and my favourite part was the ‘my journey’ part of it which showed me my weight loss and activity changes. This helped me figure out how to do it without putting too much pressure on myself or being overwhelmed. It’s also really helpful, as it highlights improvements I’ve made. I found the tracking of my weight, measurements, steps a useful motivational tool, I was buzzing.    

“That coupled with the phone calls with my coach made fitting the 3 months schedule into my everyday life easier. It made me determined to figure out (and worry less about) how to complete it without becoming demotivated due to the stress and pressure of competing demands. The online modules have been helpful to refresh my understanding and my capacity to learn new things.  

“Being on the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme helped me make positive lifestyle changes. I increased my physical activities, such as walking, which increased my step count, this encouraged me to change my portion size at mealtimes and I just began to eat more fruit and vegetables. These things just all fell into place for me, it was amazing, it was so much easier than I thought”.  

Lucy Jones joined the programme in December 2022 and was impressed at how easy it was to access all the information she needed. She said: “Everything was in one easy to find place. The best thing for me was that you weren’t held to specific time or day, so I could just do a short class at home, whenever I wanted. I meant I had a great deal of freedom; I was in control; I didn’t have to join groups. I had a coach where I had one-to-one sessions. I felt supported but not pressured.  

“I enjoyed the coaching; my coach made me feel comfortable. I could discuss my concerns and progress on the programme with Sarah, she was amazing. I felt so at ease talking to her. Some weeks I hadn’t lost weight, her support was solid, her focus was less about the weight but other tangible changes.  I didn’t really understand that at first, but she showed me that I was still seeing changes. I was feeling better within myself, I had more energy to do things and just hearing her say that was good, it kept me going.   

“The weekly check ins kept me motivated as did the slight shift in the way I viewed my weight loss journey. Being on the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme has had a really positive impact on me. I’m now making the right food choices, without having to think and worry about it and I know how and when to control my eating habits.  To top it off being on the programme has meant I’ve lost 3.7kg that’s over 8 pounds which has shrunk my waist by around 1.5cm. That’s amazing, what’s more amazing is that I feel much healthier, I can’t recommend this programme enough.  

“I’m sure there are lots of people out there who don’t fancy going to weekly groups to get weighed. It’s just not for us. I think this is perfect for those of us who struggle with that kind of structure. My advice would be to get on the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme, it did great things for me, including boosting my confidence, just give it a try, do it!”.  

Further information on the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme is available online, including eligibility and how to access through your GP or local pharmacist.

Other NHS weight management programmes include the Healthier You NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, which identifies people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and refers them onto a 9-month, evidence-based lifestyle change programme.

The NHS also offers free NHS health checks to assess over 40s on their risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions such as high blood pressure.