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Helping individuals to help themselves*

  • Lyndel Costain (a1) and Helen Croker (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2007

Obesity is a serious and increasing health issue. Approximately two-thirds of adults in the UK are now overweight or obese. Recent public health reports firmly reinforce the importance of engaging individuals to look after their health, including their weight. They also spell out the need for individuals to be supported more actively, on many levels, to enable this ‘engagement’. Meanwhile, national surveys indicate that approximately two-thirds of adults are concerned about weight control, with one-third actively trying to lose weight. This finding is hardly surprising considering current weight statistics, plus the plethora of popular diets on offer. Weight-loss methods include diet clubs, diet books, exercise, meal replacements, advice from healthcare professionals and following a self-styled diet. Obesity is a multi-factorial problem, and losing weight and, in particular, maintaining weight loss is difficult and often elusive. It is argued that the modern obesogenic or ‘toxic’ environment has essentially taken body-weight control from an instinctive ‘survival’ process to one that needs sustained cognitive and skill-based control. The evidence suggests that health professionals can help individuals achieve longer-term weight control by supporting them in making sustainable lifestyle changes using a range of behavioural techniques. These techniques include: assessing readiness to change; self-monitoring; realistic goal setting; dietary change; increased physical activity; stimulus control; cognitive restructuring; relapse management; establishing ongoing support. Consistently working in a client-centred way is also being increasingly advocated and incorporated into practice to help motivate and encourage, rather than hinder, the individual's progress.

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Corresponding author: Lyndel Costain, fax +44 20 7813 2848, email
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