While there are quite a few nationally advertised diet programs that rely on providing a complete replacement meal plan, it can be difficult for consumers to find reliable data about the safety and effectiveness of many of these plans.
The Health Management Resources Corporation of Boston, MA, recently funded a clinical research study to assess the weight-loss outcomes, behavioral data and associated side effects of two low-energy meal replacement programs.
The study was lead by Dr. James W. Anderson of the University of Kentucky’s Health Management Resources Weight Management Program, a partnership between the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and Health Management Resources Corporation. Their report, “A Systematic Review of Targeted Outcomes Associated with a Medically Supervised Commercial Weight-Loss Program” was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in August of 2009.
For the HMR study, 173 patients were enlisted to adopt one of two replacement meal plans: “Medically Supervised” or “Healthy Solutions.” Both plans supplemented the meal replacements with a structured behavioral modification program that included a weekly exercise goal and information and support activities, such as regularly scheduled classes, day-by-day recordkeeping, and weekly phone check-ins.
Medically Supervised Group
Medically Supervised plan participants ate five replacement meals each day, in some combination of shakes, entrees, and bars (e.g., five shakes per day, or three shakes and two entrees, etc.). This option was required for some patients who were suffering from certain medical problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Of the 117 patients who either chose or were assigned the Medically Supervised plan, 93 completed at least nine weeks of the treatment. The Medically Supervised group’s average weight loss over 19 weeks of treatment was more than 43 pounds, which represented a 16.4 percent reduction from their starting weight.
Healthy Solutions Group
56 patients started on the Healthy Solutions diet, and 37 of them completed the scheduled plan. With Healthy Solutions, patients combined meal replacement products (shakes, entrees and bars) with fruits and vegetables. They were encouraged to have at least three shakes per day, along with two entrees and a total of five fruits and vegetables each day. Most patients actually exceeded these recommendations.
Participants who completed 18 weeks on the Healthy Solutions option lost an average of 37.5 pounds, which translates to an average 15.8 percent reduction from initial body weight.
Safe and Effective
In both cases these low-energy diets combined with behavioral supports proved both highly effective and medically safe.
Given that a 5 to 10 percent weight reduction is the generally accepted standard for success in any weight-loss program, both Healthy Solutions and Medically Supervised yielded excellent results. Any side effects the participants reported while on the low-energy regimes were mild and did not interfere with their ability and willingness to continue with the programs
The use of the meal replacements within a structured program that encouraged greater accountability and commitment by the participants also contributed to the relatively high rates of compliance and completion.
In conclusion, some commercial meal replacement plans like Medically Supervised and Healthy Solutions do offer tested and reliable weight loss solutions for some of the 66 percent of adults who are overweight and at risk for serious health complications—particularly when the diet plans are used in conjunction with a supportive behavioral program.