Dr. Lawrence J. Appel of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues recruited 415 obese people -- predominantly middle-age women -- with an average body mass index of 36.6 and an average weight of 229 pounds.
They were randomly split into three groups: The control group received information about weight loss but did not receive counseling; another group received counseling over the phone with a coach; and a third group was offered in-person and phone counseling.
Those in the control group lost an average of less than 2 pounds over the course of two years. But those in the two groups that had telephone counseling sessions or in-person coaching lost more than five times that amount -- an average of 10 pounds over two years.
Appel said in-person programs are the standard, and such programs do lead to weight loss. But, the study leader said, the frequent, in-person counseling sessions, from a logistical perspective, are a disaster because patients start off strong then stop attending.
However, the researchers said they were surprised telephone contact with coaches worked just as well as in-person one-on-one and group sessions.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.