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Weight Intervention Program helped reduced Depression in Black Women

Update Date: Jul 18, 2014 12:26 PM EDT

Researchers have known that many health conditions are related to one another. When one problem gets treated, another one might be alleviated at the same time. In a new study out of Duke University, researchers discovered that their intervention program aimed to help women lose weight also managed to reduce their depression symptoms as well.

For this study, the researchers recruited 185 black women between the ages of 25 and 44 with a body mass index (BMI) from 25 to 35. The women were all from low-income backgrounds and were receiving medical care from one of five community health centers located in central North Carolina. The researchers randomly enlisted 91 participants in the intervention weight loss group, called the Shape Program. The remaining 94 women were placed in the control group.

Women in the Shape Program received automated phone calls each week over the course of 12 weeks that helped tracked their behavioral goals. They also had a monthly phone call session with a personal health coach. The last part of the program included a free membership at the YMCA. Women in the control group received normal care from their physicians.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers calculated that 19 percent of the women from the intervention group reported dealing with depression where as 21 percent of the women in the control group did as well. At the 12-months point, the researchers found that depression rate fell to 11 percent in the intervention group and 19 percent in the control group. At the end of the 18-month point, only 10 percent of the people in the intervention group stated that they were still depressed. The rate did not change in the control group.

The researchers found that the program helped with women's depression symptoms regardless of how much weight they lost. The improvements were also not tied to whether or not the women were taking antidepressants.

"Interventions that focus on maintaining your weight, not just losing weight, may have more widespread effects," said lead author Dori Steinberg, a research scholar with the Duke Digital Health Science Center reported in Medical Xpress. "It is exciting that we improved depression among a population that is severely socioeconomically disadvantaged and has limited access to depression treatment. The reductions we saw in depression are comparable to what is seen with traditional approaches like counseling or medication treatment."

Steinberg added, "These results suggest that the 'maintain, don't gain' approach could be a first line of treatment for women who have barriers accessing traditional treatment approaches. A key challenge is getting health systems to use interventions like these, so we are evaluating the use of smartphone apps and text-messaging to make it easier for people to access them."

The study, "The Effect of a 'Maintain, Don't Gain' Approach to Weight Management on Depression Among Black Women: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial,'" was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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