Behavioral and Pharmacotherapy Weight Loss Interventions to Prevent Obesity-Related Morbidity and Mortality in Adults: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2018 Sep 18;320(11):1172-1191. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.7777.


Importance: Overweight and obesity have been associated with adverse health effects.

Objective: To systematically review evidence on benefits and harms of behavioral and pharmacotherapy weight loss and weight loss maintenance interventions in adults to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: MEDLINE, PubMed Publisher-Supplied Records, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for studies published through June 6, 2017; and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform for ongoing trials through August 2017; and ongoing surveillance in targeted publications through March 23, 2018. Studies from previous reviews were reevaluated for inclusion.

Study selection: Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) focusing on weight loss or weight loss maintenance in adults.

Data extraction and synthesis: Data were abstracted by one reviewer and confirmed by another. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted for weight loss outcomes in behavior-based interventions.

Main outcomes and measures: Health outcomes, weight loss or weight loss maintenance, reduction in obesity-related conditions, and adverse events.

Results: A total of 122 RCTs (N = 62 533) and 2 observational studies (N = 209 993) were identified. Compared with controls, participants in behavior-based interventions had greater mean weight loss at 12 to 18 months (-2.39 kg [95% CI, -2.86 to -1.93]; 67 studies [n = 22065]) and less weight regain (-1.59 kg [95% CI, -2.38 to -0.79]; 8 studies [n = 1408]). Studies of medication-based weight loss and maintenance interventions also reported greater weight loss or less weight regain in intervention compared with placebo groups at 12 to 18 months (range, -0.6 to -5.8 kg; no meta-analysis). Participants with prediabetes in weight loss interventions had a lower risk of developing diabetes compared with controls (relative risk, 0.67 [95% CI, 0.51 to 0.89]). There was no evidence of other benefits, but most health outcomes such as mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer were infrequently reported. Small improvements in quality of life in some medication trials were noted but were of unclear clinical significance. There was no evidence of harm such as cardiovascular disease from behavior-based interventions; higher rates of adverse events were associated with higher dropout rates in medication groups than in placebo groups.

Conclusions and relevance: Behavior-based weight loss interventions with or without weight loss medications were associated with more weight loss and a lower risk of developing diabetes than control conditions. Weight loss medications, but not behavior-based interventions, were associated with higher rates of harms. Long-term weight and health outcomes data, as well as data on important subgroups, were limited.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Obesity Management / methods*
  • Preventive Health Services
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States
  • Weight Loss*


  • Anti-Obesity Agents