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Can a 6-hour Program Prevent Obesity? Drexel Psychologist Wants to Find Out

February 05, 2019

Woman tying shoes in exercise clothes

What if an hour a week for six weeks could prevent young adults from becoming obese? Meghan Butryn, PhD, a Drexel University psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, is trying to find out.

Obesity continues to pose a threat to adults of all ages in the United States. In addition to increasing the risk of developing health problems, it can also have a negative effect on quality of life, social development and mental health. In Philadelphia, the Department of Public Health does have programs in place to address the issue and help Philadelphians get healthier. However, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, while the number of adults with obesity has not increased, it has remained the same.

But, like other health issues, preventative health care may be more effective than treating the problem once it exists.

Project Health is a new five-year study, in partnership with Eric Stice, PhD of the Oregon Research Institute, designed to evaluate whether preventative intervention in young adulthood can reduce the likelihood of obesity later in life. The program is based on cutting-edge obesity prevention research and preliminary study results have demonstrated that young adults who completed this program showed less weight gain over two years following the study than individuals who did not participate in the classes.

Project Health participants will receive a baseline assessment and attend weekly one-hour sessions for six weeks. A trained clinician will lead each session of six to eight participants and will focus on teaching skills to make healthier lifestyle choices and regularly engage in physical activity. Following the sessions, participants will repeat the first assessment and then be tracked for three years to monitor changes. There is no control or placebo group, so every participant benefits from the program.

"It's a relatively short-term intervention - six weeks. Given the scale of the epidemic, we need more short-term, less-burdensome interventions," says Butryn.

Butryn and her colleagues think young adulthood is an important period because the transition to independence is when they can intervene before habits become too entrenched.

"We're not prescribing a particular meal plan or supervising on the treadmill each day. We're really trying to teach skills that they will carry throughout the transition into adulthood as they go out and make their own dietary and exercise decisions," says Butryn. "It's almost like a vaccine we're trying to give them to prevent those unhealthy habits."

Butryn and Stice will publish the results of the study to contribute to the current literature on methods that effectively promote behavior change. A primary goal of this clinical trial is to improve the effectiveness of a novel intervention so that it can be broadly implemented as an obesity prevention program and reduce the prevalence of obesity and associated health problems.

Project Health is actively enrolling interested participants. Young Philadelphians between the ages of 17 and 20 with weight concerns looking to learn healthier habits can find more information on the Project Health website.