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The TOPS weight-loss program shows modest success for those who stick with the program

September 29, 2010
  • People who enrolled in the TOPS weight loss program and stayed with it tended to take weight off and keep it off, a study finds
People who enrolled in the TOPS weight loss program and stayed with it tended… (The Hartford Courant )

Weight-loss programs are perennially popular for many trying to shed pounds. But do all of them work? A new study finds that people who join the national nonprofit weight loss organization Take Off Pounds Sensibly lost a modest amount of weight over the course of a year, but by sticking with the program they tended to keep it off.

The study focused on people who joined TOPS in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (TOPS allowed researchers access to member data and provided administrative support but did not fund the study). The participants were divided into two groups: those who renewed their membership each year, and those who had nonconsectutive memberships, allowing their membership to lapse before signing up again. Weight in both groups was tracked. The vast majority (95%) of study subjects were women. Their average starting weight was about 216 pounds, and for men about 269 pounds.

In the course of the study, 42,481 people renewed their memberships at least once. That included 2,427 people who renewed nonconsecutively.

Those who kept up with the program in consecutive years lost an average 5.9% to 7.1% of their starting body weight, and kept that weight off for two years. People who were on and off the program lost less weight overall.

The study authors point out that the average weight loss for those who stayed with the program is in line with people who completed other weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers and the Atkins diet. TOPS membership fees are generally less than most for-profit weight loss companies.

Researchers aren't sure why some TOPS members have success; in the study they wrote, "It is unclear why weight was so stable for this subset of participants. They may simply represent a select group of highly motivated individuals." They added, "Although the dropout rate of 63% at 1 year is high, TOPS is a low-cost intervention. Thus participants bear little financial risk by joining. We speculate that the lower dropout rate in TOPS could be due to the camaraderie that develops among participants and/or the ownership some members may feel because they hold offices in the chapter."

The authors also said that head-to-head comparisons of TOPS with commercial weight loss programs are needed.

The study was published online in the journal Obesity.

-Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles Times

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