In an earlier
study, Molly Kretsch (right), now a National Program Leader for ARS Human
Nutrition Research, and registered dietitian Monique Derricote check a
computerized test of attention span. Click the image for more information
Dieting Study Highlights Benefits of Group
Support By Marcia Wood January 25, 2006
Dieters who have the help of a support group may experience less
stress and less of a brainpower drain than those who go it alone, results of a
study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) nutrition scientists and their
ARS-funded colleagues suggest.
The investigation apparently is the first to concurrently examine the
interplay between several factors that had figured in earlier weight-loss
research: supervised versus unsupervised dieting; increased stress; and an
early, temporary decrease in mental performance. That's according to
Kretsch, a national program leader for ARS' human nutrition research, and a
coinvestigator on the study. She's based in Beltsville, Md.
Fifty-six healthy, overweight women aged 23 to 45 completed the study,
participating for eight weeks in either supervised or unsupervised weight-loss
regimens or in a grouping that neither dieted nor met as a group.
Dieters who attended weekly support-group sessions did not have a
significant increase in cortisol, a stress-associated hormone, at the end of
the study's first week, but the unaided dieters did. What's more, at that same
checkpoint, the unassisted dieters scored lower in two computerized tests of
their working-memory capacity--one aspect of mental performance--than did the
supervised and the nondieting volunteers.
One test, for example, required volunteers to remember numbers that
appeared only briefly on the computer screen.
Even though there were no significant differences among volunteers'
mental performance scores by the four- and eight-week checkpoints, the
differences noted at the end of the first week nonetheless interest researchers
and healthcare professionals who want to help dieters reduce
weight-loss-associated stress and mental performance problems. Either or both
kinds of problems--and the earliness with which they occur during dieting--may
lead dieters to quit their weight-loss programs too soon.
Prospective dieters might include any of the millions of adult
Americans who are overweight or obese.
Kretsch and neuroscience researchers Michael W. Green and Nicola A.
Elliman of Aston University, Birmingham.
U.K., reported their findings in a 2005 issue of the journal
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.