New Study Measures the Power of Health Advisors

Ever wonder how your health might change if you worked with a personal trainer or some other sort of health coach? Possibly quite a bit, according to a new U.S. government study published today.

Photo by Donkeyhotey.
Illustration by Donkeyhotey.

On average, it found that people who are overweight and have at least one other risk factor for heart disease could lose significant weight, cut their risk of diabetes in half and improve their cholesterol and blood pressure as well.

Based on that, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended some sort of “behavioral counseling” to everyone in this category.

So how does this apply to you? You probably already know if you are overweight. (If not, calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI may not the most useful of looking at your size and shape, but it’s the measurement used in this study.)

Some common factors for heart disease mentioned in this study include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Of course, you might benefit from the same kind of counseling even if you don’t have these risk factors. The study just didn’t look at that question.

And where can you get a health coach? This study put together data from dozens of clinical trials. Among the types of health coaches they included were dietitians, nutritionists, physical therapists, “exercise professionals or consultants,” health educators, psychologists, nurses, or case managers.

If you are looking for someone readily available and easy to find, you might try a personal trainer. (Contact me, or search a directory, such as this one by IDEA. You can also find classes at SweatGuru. Or find a dietitian from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)

Combining results from clinical trials, this report came up with average reductions in less than two years:

  • Total cholesterol levels by 5.43 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by 3.69 mg/dL
  • Triglyceride levels by 8.33 mg/dL
  • Systolic blood pressure by 2.06 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
  • Diastolic blood pressure by 1.30 mm Hg
  • Fasting glucose levels by 0.10 mmol/L (1.86 mg/dL)

The reduction in diabetes risk was 54%. These other measurements won’t mean much to you unless you already know your own levels.

Weight Loss

Weight, the measurement most people use most often to measure their health, changed by “a standardized mean difference of 0.24.” That’s pretty meaningless unless you know how much the participants weighed to start with, and that varied a lot from one study to the next.

But to get some sense, I looked at one of the trials highlighted by these researchers, the Premier trial on blood pressure. In that study,  participants met with a counselor — typically a dietician — 18 times over six months: four times individually and 14 times in a group. They got advice about healthy eating as well as exercise. The average participant lost 12.76 pounds. Of course, the participants started with an average weight of 217, so it was only a first step.

Still, it’s good measurable evidence that people can help each other get fit.

3 thoughts on “New Study Measures the Power of Health Advisors”

  1. I’m glad to hear this, as I’m a health coach!! I think for a lot of people, all they need is some guidance and someone to talk to about their struggles with healthy living to help them live better. Also, having someone to be held accountable too helps I think!

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