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Efficacy of habit-based weight loss interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Habit-based interventions are a novel and emerging strategy to help reduce excess weight in individuals with overweight or obesity. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to determine the efficacy of habit-based interventions on weight loss. We identified potential studies through electronic searches in February 2019. Included studies were randomized/quasi randomized controlled trials comparing weight loss interventions founded on habit-theory with a control (active or non-active) and enrolled adults with overweight or obesity (body mass index ≥ 25 kg/m2). Five trials (630 participants) met our inclusion criteria. After the intervention period (range 8–14 weeks), weight loss was modest but statistically different between groups (1.4 kg [95% confidence interval 0.5, 2.3; P = 0.004]) favoring habit-based interventions. Intervention groups averaged 2.5 kg weight loss (range 1.7 to 6.7 kg) compared with control 1.5 kg (range 0.4 to 5.8 kg) and were 2.4 times more likely to achieve clinically beneficial weight loss (≥ 5% weight reduction). Average weight losses in adults with overweight and obesity using habit-based interventions appear to be of clinical benefit. There were statistically significant differences in weight loss between habit-based interventions and controls, post-intervention. Longer studies powered to examine at least 12-month follow-up are required to more accurately determine the role of habit-based interventions on long-term weight loss maintenance.

Trial registration Prospero ID: CRD42017065589. Available from https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/display_record.asp?ID=CRD42017065589.

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We thank Ms Rebecca Simms for her invaluable assistance in data extraction and analysis. We also thank Mr Justin Clark for conducting our search.


GC was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. RT and EB are supported by a NHMRC Grant (APP1104136, APP1044904). PG is supported by a NHMRC Australian Fellowship Grant (GNT1080042). LI received no funding with respect to this study.

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Correspondence to Gina Cleo.

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Gina Cleo, Elaine Beller, Paul Glasziou, Elisabeth Isenring and Rae Thomas declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.

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Cleo, G., Beller, E., Glasziou, P. et al. Efficacy of habit-based weight loss interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Behav Med (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-019-00100-w

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  • Behavioral science
  • Habits
  • Obesity
  • Overweight
  • Systematic review
  • Weight loss