A randomized controlled pilot study testing three types of health coaches for obesity treatment: Professional, peer, and mentor

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 May;21(5):928-34. doi: 10.1002/oby.20271.


Despite their popularity, empirical support for health coaches is limited.

Objective: This study examined the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of three types of coaching models for obesity treatment.

Design and methods: Participants (N = 44) were randomized to 6 months of reduced intensity group behavioral weight loss (rBWL) plus one of three types of health coaches: (i) Professional (rBWL interventionist), (ii) Peer (group members randomly paired and coached one another), or (iii) Mentor (successful weight loser). Groups met weekly for the first 6 weeks, biweekly for the next 6 weeks, and monthly thereafter, for a total of 12 meetings. During weeks that group did not meet, participants emailed their weight loss information to their coach and received feedback. Coaches were trained on appropriate coaching strategies and feedback delivery.

Results: Retention was 95%. Participants emailed their progress to their coach 10.8 ± 1.9 of the 12 weeks that there were no group meetings. Coaches responded with feedback 94% of the time. Percent weight losses at 6 months were 9.6 ± 8.1, 9.1 ± 5.0, and 5.7 ± 5.6 for the Professional, Peer, and Mentor conditions, respectively. More participants in the Professional and Peer conditions lost 10% of their initial body weight (Professional: 56% Peer: 50% and Mentor: 17%), with a statistically significant difference between the Professional and Mentor conditions (P = 0.03).

Conclusion: These preliminary data suggest that combining a rBWL program with health coaching may hold significant promise as a cost-effective obesity treatment paradigm. Larger trials are needed to conclusively determine whether adding coaches improves weight loss outcomes in reduced intensity treatments and to examine which type of coach is most effective.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Services*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mentors*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Peer Group*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss*
  • Weight Reduction Programs*