Despite the popularity of wellness coaches, no real studies have been done to see if they actually help people shed pounds. This study, in the journal obesity, looked at 3 types of coaches: professional, like a health care provider; Peer group members who coach each other; And mentors - someone who's successfully lost weight.
Michael Mastrano has struggled with his weight for years. Once obese, he's now lost 100 pounds.
"My stamina, going up the stairs I'm not winded. My performance at work has even improved," Mastrano said.
Michael now has a wellness coach who's teaching him how to live healthy and lose weight. It's a wellness program available to employees at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Susan Soccol is a part of the team. Once borderline obese, she's already lost 23 pounds.
"This is really a life change for me. I'm eating totally differently," she said.
The plan includes nutrition counseling, regular blood pressure screenings along with monitoring of a person's body mass index, hydration levels and fat and muscle mass.
Coach Ali Crawford also offers lots of encouragement.
"It's more how can I help you, what are you thinking. I kind of work with them to set health and wellness goals. I follow up with them so they're accountable," Crawford said.
Now, a pilot study supports this approach to weight loss. Researchers from the Miriam Hospital Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center looked at 3 type of wellness coaches: professional, peer and mentor.
The patients in the study met for 12 sessions. Those coached by a professional or peer lost the most weight - 10 percent of their body weight. That's comparable to what patients lose in more intensive programs with twice as many sessions
Coach Ali says that's impressive.
"It's enough to make a significant change as far as your clinical risk factors related to obesity," she said.
Michael gives a lot of credit to his coach for his remarkable weight loss.
"I think just knowing you're going to get on a scale once in a while is a motivator. It definitely points us in the right direction," Mastrano said.
The authors say they will be doing a bigger study on the issue and suggest their work shows health coaches may be a promising cost-effective obesity treatment strategy. Some insurance plans do pay for wellness coaches, especially for those who are obese and have other health issues.
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