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Christmas Research – Can a Behavioural Intervention Prevent Weight Gain Over Christmas?

By Jiri Kaloc

Research shows that people gain 1 kg of weight every year, on average. The problem that is relevant to this time of the year is that very often this weight gain happens during Christmas and is never fully lost. A study from the British Medical Journal examined whether a simple behavioural intervention is enough to prevent that weight gain.

The researchers recruited 272 adults (78 % women) with a BMI of over 20 from workplaces, social media platforms, and schools in Birmingham. They randomized them into two equivalent groups. The intervention group received a brief behavioural intervention and the control group just a leaflet on healthy living. They did a baseline assessment including weight measurements in November and December, with follow-up evaluation in January and February, 4–8 weeks after the baseline.

What is a brief behavioural intervention?

The behavioural intervention in this study had several components. The researchers aimed to increase restraint of eating and drinking through regular self-weighing and recording of weight. They also provided the intervention group with materials explaining the physical activity calorie equivalent of regularly consumed food and drinks. And they gave participants 10 tips to help with weight management. The goal for the intervention group was to gain no more than 0,5 kg over the Christmas period. The 10 tips given to the intervention group were as follows:

1. Routine meals at around the same time each day.
2. A choice of reduced-fat foods over fatty foods.
3. Walking at least 10,000 steps per day.
4. A choice of healthy snacks such as fruits or low-calorie yoghurts.
5. Understanding food labels and choosing foods with less sugar and fats.
6. Intake of smaller food portions.
7. Staying upright and standing for at least 10 minutes per hour each waking hour.
8. A choice of water and sugar-free beverages over sugary drinks and alcohol. Limiting alcohol to one glass a day for women and two a day for men.
9. Eating slowly and focusing on the food.
10. Eating at least five portions (400 g) of fruits and vegetables per day.

The intervention group gained 0,5 kg less over Christmas

The results of this study are very promising. The intervention group lost 0,13 kg on average and the control group gained 0,37 kg on average. This means that the weight difference over Christmas time amounted to 0,49 kg in favour of those who were in the intervention group.

“Although this intervention was successful in preventing weight gain, it was multicomponent and therefore it’s not possible to determine the effectiveness of the individual factors, although we did find that participants in the intervention group were more likely to weigh themselves at least twice weekly than those in the comparator group,” researchers said. How about you? Are you going to try a behavioural change this Christmas?