Self-help for weight loss in overweight and obese adults: systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Public Health. 2015 Mar;105(3):e43-57. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302389. Epub 2015 Jan 20.


We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the components and effectiveness of self-help weight-loss interventions and their applicability to less-advantaged populations. We searched (November 2013) for randomized controlled trials comparing self-help interventions with each other or with minimal controls in overweight and obese adults, with 6 months or longer follow-up. We calculated mean difference between intervention and control for 6- and 12-month weight change. Twenty-three studies met the inclusion criteria (9632 participants; 39 intervention arms). Intervention participants lost significantly more weight than controls at 6 months (mean difference -1.85 kg; 95% confidence interval [CI]=-2.86, -0.83; 7 studies). No significant effect was detected at 12 months but results were sensitive to the inclusion of 1 study at high risk of bias. Interactive programs appeared more effective than standard ones at 6 months (mean difference -0.94 kg; 95% CI=-1.50, -0.38). Evidence is insufficient to reach conclusions on effectiveness in socioeconomically disadvantaged people, but suggests self-help interventions may be less effective in this group.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consumer Health Information / methods*
  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / economics
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self-Help Groups / economics
  • Self-Help Groups / organization & administration*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Loss / physiology
  • Weight Reduction Programs / economics
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods
  • Weight Reduction Programs / organization & administration*