Supporting Weight Management during COVID-19: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Web-Based, ACT-Based, Guided Self-Help Intervention

Obes Facts. 2022;15(4):550-559. doi: 10.1159/000524031. Epub 2022 Apr 13.


Introduction: Adults with overweight and obesity are vulnerable to weight gain and mental health deterioration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We developed a web-based, guided self-help intervention based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that aims to support adults with overweight and obesity to prevent weight gain by helping them to manage their eating behaviours, be more physically active, and protect their emotional wellbeing ("SWiM-C"). SWiM-C is a guided self-help programme using non-specialist guides to enhance scalability and population reach while minimizing cost. This study evaluated the effect of SWiM-C on bodyweight, eating behaviour, physical activity, and mental wellbeing in adults with overweight and obesity over 4 months during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

Methods: We randomized adults (BMI ≥25 kg/m2) to SWiM-C or to a wait-list standard advice group. Participants completed outcome assessments online at baseline and 4 months. The primary outcome was self-measured weight; secondary outcomes were eating behaviour, physical activity, experiential avoidance/psychological flexibility, depression, anxiety, stress, and wellbeing. We estimated differences between study groups in change in outcomes from baseline to 4 months using linear regression, adjusted for outcome at baseline and the randomization stratifiers (BMI, sex). The trial was pre-registered (ISRCTN12107048).

Results: 486 participants were assessed for eligibility; 388 participants were randomized (196 standard advice, 192 SWiM-C), and 324 were analysed. The adjusted difference in weight between SWiM-C and standard advice was -0.60 kg (-1.67 to 0.47, p = 0.27). SWiM-C led to improvements in uncontrolled eating (-3.61 [-5.94 to -1.28]), cognitive restraint (5.28 [2.81-7.75]), experiential avoidance (-3.39 [-5.55 to -1.23]), and wellbeing (0.13 [0.07-0.18]).

Conclusions: SWiM-C improved several psychological determinants of successful weight management and had a protective effect on wellbeing during the pandemic. However, differences in weight and some other outcomes were compatible with no effect of the intervention, suggesting further refinement of the intervention is needed.

Keywords: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; COVID-19; Obesity; Overweight.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy*
  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • Pandemics
  • Weight Gain

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN12107048