Meal replacements shown to be effective for weight loss

News Science and Technology

Image Credit: World Obesity Federation

Meal replacement shakes have swept the nation, with brands such as Huel quickly becoming household names. They are supposedly filling, nutritionally balanced, and very quick and easy to make, but could they be a weapon against the obesity epidemic? One group of scientists at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford have recently completed a study that implies they are safe and more effective at inducing and maintaining weight loss than currently used methods.

The randomised controlled trial involved 278 overweight participants who were either enrolled in their GP’s weight management programme for 24 weeks, or assigned to a diet replacement programme consisting of 810 calories per day of shakes, soups and bars supplemented with milk and fibre supplements and combined with regular sessions with a trained counsellor. The replacement diet lasted for 8 weeks, after which conventional food was gradually re-introduced over 4 weeks. After this 12-week period, the subjects were encouraged to replace a single meal a
day for a further 12 weeks.

The conclusion of the study was unambiguous. After 12 months the group on the diet programme lost an average 10.7kg, compared to only 3.5kg by the group that underwent the existing programme involving advice and support from a practice nurse. Furthermore, they found a greater reduction in the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the first group.

Professor Susan Jebb, the chief investigator of the study and Professor of Diet and Population Health at Oxford University, commented: “In the past we have worried that a short period of rapid weight loss may lead to rapid weight regain, but this study shows that nine months after the intensive weight-loss phase, people have lost more than three times as much weight as people following a conventional weight-loss programme.”

The team hope that the NHS may begin to fund such programmes and that GP’s will be able to recommend the intervention as part of routine primary care. This may help improve the health of the nation, meaning fewer obesity-related hospital and doctor visits. However, the intervention may not be suitable for everyone and interested patients are advised to consult their GP before entering a programme.