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Obliterating Obesity

UVA recruiting participants for remote rural weight loss study

January-February 2024

Story courtesy of UVA Health

University of Virginia School of Medicine public health researchers, together with their colleagues at the University of South Carolina, have received a $3.37 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to determine if online behavioral weight-management programs for rural residents can be improved by adding a human touch.

UVA researchers say online obesity programs have typically failed to yield the same benefits as in-person programs, so they will test three approaches to add human involvement.

More than 600 volunteer participants will be enrolled in a core online 24-week weight loss program and randomly assigned to receive one of two forms of feedback on their self-monitoring efforts, as well as potentially receiving additional components including weekly group video sessions and individual coaching calls.

The goal is to help residents of rural areas — where in-person weight loss programs can be scarce — to manage their weight and fight the obesity epidemic that has swept America.

“Weight loss of as little as 5%-7% can reduce obesity-associated co-morbidities,” says UVA public health researcher Becca Krukowski, one of the principal investigators. “Access to weight-management programs can be limited in rural areas. This study will examine how digital interventions can be optimized for delivering weight loss programs to rural populations.”


More than 130 million Americans are overweight or obese, and people living in rural areas experience significantly higher rates of both obesity and chronic illnesses associated with obesity. Many rural areas are also beset by an increasing lack of access to healthcare resources.

Finding better ways to help rural residents manage their weight could have big benefits. Krukowski, of UVA’s Department of Public Health Sciences, notes that there is already some evidence that adding a human component to digital obesity-treatment programs can improve their effectiveness.

She hopes her new trial will offer answers on the best “package” of treatment components.

Over the next three years, she and her collaborators will enroll and provide the program for a total of 616 men and women, with the goal of determining which approach, or which combination of approaches, is most effective at promoting weight loss. Anyone interested in participating in the study can go to ireachstudy.org to find out more information and determine their eligibility.

The new program has just started recruiting for the first wave — perfect timing for New Year’s resolutions related to improving health.

Researchers will look at factors that contribute to weight loss success, such as social support, accountability and problem solving. They will also consider elements such as gender, ethnicity and age, as well as the costs of the intervention components.


Ultimately, Krukowski and her team hope their research will lead to optimized online weight loss programs that will be more accessible to rural residents than in-person programs. That would increase the public health benefits of the programs and will inform public health policy decisions such as whether the programs should be covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other health insurance companies.

“The study is an exciting opportunity for rural residents to have access to a cutting-edge behavioral weight loss program and also contribute to science,” Krukowski says.