How Effective Are Dietitians in Weight Management? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Healthcare (Basel). 2019 Feb 1;7(1):20. doi: 10.3390/healthcare7010020.


Effective, evidence-based strategies to prevent and treat obesity are urgently required. Dietitians have provided individualized weight management counselling for decades, yet evidence of the effectiveness of this intervention has never been synthesized. The aim of this study was to examine the effectiveness of individualized nutrition care for weight management provided by dietitians to adults in comparison to minimal or no intervention. Databases (Cochrane, CINAHL plus, MedLine ovid, ProQuest family health, PubMed, Scopus) were searched for terms analogous with patient, dietetics and consultation with no date restrictions. The search yielded 5796 unique articles, with 14 randomized controlled trials meeting inclusion criteria. The risk of bias for the included studies ranged from unclear to high. Six studies found a significant intervention effect for the dietitian consultation, and a further four found significant positive change for both the intervention and control groups. Data were synthesized through random effects meta-analysis from five studies (n = 1598) with weight loss as the outcome, and from four studies (n = 1224) with Body Mass Index (BMI) decrease as the outcome. Groups receiving the dietitian intervention lost an additional 1.03 kg (95% CI:-1.40; -0.66, p < 0.0001) of weight and 0.43 kg/m2 (95% CI:-0.59, -0.26; p < 0.0001) of BMI than those receiving usual care. Heterogeneity was low for both weight loss and BMI, with the pooled means varying from 1.26 to -0.93 kg and -0.4 kg/m² for weight and BMI, respectively, with the removal of single studies. This study is the first to synthesize evidence on the effectiveness of individualized nutrition care delivered by a dietitian. Well-controlled studies that include cost-effectiveness measures are needed to strengthen the evidence base.

Keywords: dietetic consultation; dietitian; nutrition care; nutritional management; primary health care; workforce.

Publication types

  • Review