Effectiveness of primary care-relevant treatments for obesity in adults: a systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Ann Intern Med. 2011 Oct 4;155(7):434-47. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-155-7-201110040-00006.


Background: Overweight and obesity in adults are common and adversely affect health.

Purpose: To summarize effectiveness and harms of primary care-relevant weight-loss interventions for overweight and obese adults.

Data sources: MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and PsycINFO from January 2005 to September 2010; systematic reviews for identifying trials before 2005.

Study selection: Two investigators appraised 6498 abstracts and 648 articles. Clinical trials were included if control groups received minimal interventions. Articles were rated as good, fair, or poor by using design-specific criteria.

Data extraction: One investigator abstracted study characteristics and findings for good- and fair-quality studies; a second checked them.

Data synthesis: Behaviorally based treatment resulted in 3-kg (6.6-lb) greater weight loss in intervention than control participants after 12 to 18 months, with more treatment sessions associated with greater loss. Limited data suggest weight-loss maintenance for 1 year or more. Orlistat plus behavioral intervention resulted in 3-kg (6.6-lb) more weight loss than did placebo after 12 months. Metformin resulted in less weight loss. Data on effects of weight-loss treatment on long-term health outcomes (for example, death and cardiovascular disease) were insufficient. Weight-loss treatment reduced diabetes incidence in participants with prediabetes. Effects on intermediate outcomes (for example, lipids and blood pressure) were mixed and small. Data on serious medication harms were insufficient. Medications commonly caused withdrawals due to gastrointestinal symptoms.

Limitations: Few studies reported health outcomes. Behaviorally based treatments were heterogeneous and specific elements were not well-described. Many studies could not be pooled because of insufficient reporting of variance data. Medication trials had high attrition, lacked postdiscontinuation data, and were inadequately powered for rare adverse effects.

Conclusion: Behaviorally based treatments are safe and effective for weight loss and maintenance.

Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Obesity Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diet, Reducing / adverse effects
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Lactones / adverse effects
  • Lactones / therapeutic use
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Orlistat
  • Overweight / diagnosis
  • Overweight / therapy
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Lactones
  • Orlistat