Effect of Behavioral Therapy With In-Clinic or Telephone Group Visits vs In-Clinic Individual Visits on Weight Loss Among Patients With Obesity in Rural Clinical Practice: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA. 2021 Jan 26;325(4):363-372. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.25855.


Importance: Rural populations have a higher prevalence of obesity and poor access to weight loss programs. Effective models for treating obesity in rural clinical practice are needed.

Objective: To compare the Medicare Intensive Behavioral Therapy for Obesity fee-for-service model with 2 alternatives: in-clinic group visits based on a patient-centered medical home model and telephone-based group visits based on a disease management model.

Design, setting, and participants: Cluster randomized trial conducted in 36 primary care practices in the rural Midwestern US. Inclusion criteria included age 20 to 75 years and body mass index of 30 to 45. Participants were enrolled from February 2016 to October 2017. Final follow-up occurred in December 2019.

Interventions: All participants received a lifestyle intervention focused on diet, physical activity, and behavior change strategies. In the fee-for-service intervention (n = 473), practice-employed clinicians provided 15-minute in-clinic individual visits at a frequency similar to that reimbursed by Medicare (weekly for 1 month, biweekly for 5 months, and monthly thereafter). In the in-clinic group intervention (n = 468), practice-employed clinicians delivered group visits that were weekly for 3 months, biweekly for 3 months, and monthly thereafter. In the telephone group intervention (n = 466), patients received the same intervention as the in-clinic group intervention, but sessions were delivered remotely via conference calls by centralized staff.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was weight change at 24 months. A minimum clinically important difference was defined as 2.75 kg.

Results: Among 1407 participants (mean age, 54.7 [SD, 11.8] years; baseline body mass index, 36.7 [SD, 4.0]; 1081 [77%] women), 1220 (87%) completed the trial. Mean weight loss at 24 months was -4.4 kg (95% CI, -5.5 to -3.4 kg) in the in-clinic group intervention, -3.9 kg (95% CI, -5.0 to -2.9 kg) in the telephone group intervention, and -2.6 kg (95% CI, -3.6 to -1.5 kg) in the in-clinic individual intervention. Compared with the in-clinic individual intervention, the mean difference in weight change was -1.9 kg (97.5% CI, -3.5 to -0.2 kg; P = .01) for the in-clinic group intervention and -1.4 kg (97.5% CI, -3.0 to 0.3 kg; P = .06) for the telephone group intervention.

Conclusions and relevance: Among patients with obesity in rural primary care clinics, in-clinic group visits but not telephone-based group visits, compared with in-clinic individual visits, resulted in statistically significantly greater weight loss at 24 months. However, the differences were small in magnitude and of uncertain clinical importance.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02456636.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Psychotherapy, Group* / methods
  • Rural Population
  • Telephone*
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02456636