A technology-assisted health coaching intervention vs. enhanced usual care for Primary Care-Based Obesity Treatment: a randomized controlled trial

BMC Obes. 2019 Feb 4;6:4. doi: 10.1186/s40608-018-0226-0. eCollection 2019.


Background: Goals for Eating and Moving (GEM) is a technology-assisted health coaching intervention to improve weight management in primary care at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) that we designed through prior rigorous formative studies. GEM is integrated within the patient-centered medical home and utilizes student health coach volunteers to counsel patients and encourage participation in VHA's intensive weight management program, MOVE!. The primary aim of this study was to determine the feasibility and acceptability of GEM when compared to Enhanced Usual Care (EUC). Our secondary aim was to test the impact of GEM on weight, diet and physical activity when compared to EUC.

Methods: Veterans with a Body Mass Index ≥30 kg/m2 or 25-29.9 kg/m2 with comorbidities (n = 45) were recruited in two phases and randomized to GEM (n = 22) or EUC (n = 23). We collected process measures (e.g. number of coaching calls completed, number and types of lifestyle goals, counseling documentation) and qualitative feedback on quality of counseling and acceptability of call duration. We also measured weight and behavioral outcomes.

Results: GEM participants reported receiving high quality counseling from health coaches and that call duration and frequency were acceptable. They received 5.9 (SD = 3.7) of 12 coaching calls on average, and number of coaching calls completed was associated with greater weight loss at 6-months in GEM participants (Spearman Coefficient = 0.71, p < 0.001). Four participants from GEM and two from EUC attended the MOVE! program. PCPs completed clinical reminders in 12% of PCP visits with GEM participants. Trends show that GEM participants (n = 21) tended to lose more weight at 3-, 6-, and 12-months as compared to EUC, but this was not statistically significant. There were no significant differences in diet or physical activity.

Conclusions: We found that a technology assisted health coaching intervention delivered within primary care using student health coaches was feasible and acceptable to Veteran patients. This pilot study helped elucidate challenges such as low provider engagement, difficulties with health coach continuity, and low patient attendance in MOVE! which we have addressed and plan to test in future studies.

Trial registration: NCT03006328 Retrospectively registered on December 30, 2016.

Keywords: Behavior change; Diet; Feasibility; Health coach; Lifestyle; Obesity; Physical activity; Primary care; Telehealth; Weight loss.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03006328