Update 15 November 2022
A new study in the International Journal of Obesity examines the effect over 12 months of the SWiM-C programme. The results show that while the effect of SWiM-C on weight was inconclusive, it improved health behaviours and wellbeing.
The social distancing and isolation measures imposed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted usual routines and habits, and increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Along with the closure of community weight management programmes and services, this meant that adults with overweight and obesity in the UK were vulnerable to weight gain, and the associated negative impacts on physical health and mental wellbeing.
The Supporting Weight Management during COVID-19 (SWiM-C) study evaluated whether a new online self-help programme is better than standard advice at helping people to prevent weight gain and supporting good physical and mental health.
More about SWiM-C
Social distancing and isolation measures imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic included closure of many weight management services. People living with obesity were vulnerable to weight gain and negative impacts on physical and mental health. Patient organisations, such as ECPO and Obesity UK, told us they needed remotely delivered interventions to support their members, emphasising the need for psychological support. We worked with them to adapt our guided self-help intervention to support weight management (SWiM) to specifically help people manage their weight during the COVID-19 pandemic (SWiM-C). We then evaluated the impact of the SWIM-C intervention on weight, eating behaviour, physical activity and mental wellbeing over 12 months.
The Supporting Weight Management during COVID-19 (SWiM-C) intervention is a 12-week guided self-help programme. It is based on acceptance and commitment therapy, targets known psychological determinants of weight management and is delivered via an online platform with remote support (one phone call, one email) from a coach.
We recruited 388 adults with overweight and obesity. Half of them were offered the SWiM-C programme. The other half were offered standard written advice materials on diet, physical activity and mental health.
We asked participants to complete online questionnaires at the beginning of the study, 4 months (end of intervention) and 12 months, so that we could compare changes in weight, health behaviours and wellbeing between the two groups. At the end of the study, the difference between groups in weight was small and uncertain. However, SWiM-C had a protective effect on wellbeing during the height of the pandemic and led to greater improvements in uncontrolled eating, emotional eating, experiential avoidance, and physical activity. You can read more about the 4 month outcomes here, and about the 12 month outcomes here
We also interviewed a small sample of participants over the telephone to find out about their experiences of the SWiM-C programme and the study. We found that participants were exposed to multiple factors that negatively impact their mental health during the trial and aspects of the SWiM-C intervention appeared to support some participants to manage these. You can read more about this qualitative study here.
While the SWiM-C intervention was specifically tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be generalizable to other situations involving high levels of stress, reduced access to resources, and/or low levels of mobility. The core components of SWiM-C were taken from the SWiM programme, which was developed for broader use within the NHS to support weight loss maintenance. We are currently developing this programme further to enhance effectiveness.
SWiM-C publications on the MRC Epidemiology Unit publications database.
- Mueller J, Richards R, Jones RA, Whittle F, Woolston J, Stubbings M, Sharp SJ, Griffin SJ, Bostock J, Hughes CA, Hill AJ, Boothby CE, Ahern AL. Supporting Weight Management during COVID-19 (SWiM-C): twelve-month follow-up of a randomised controlled trial of a web-based, ACT-based, guided self-help intervention. Int J Obes (Lond). 2022 Nov 11.
- Jones RA, Richards R, Palat R, Hughes C, Hill AJ, Vincent A, Griffin SJ, Ahern AL, Duschinsky R. Participants’ experiences of mental health during a COVID-19 tailored ACT-based behavioural weight management intervention: a qualitative study. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2022 Dec;17(1):2123093.
- Mueller J, Richards R, Jones RA, Whittle F, Woolston J, Stubbings M, Sharp SJ, Griffin SJ, Bostock J, Hughes CA, Hill AJ, Ahern AL. Supporting Weight Management during COVID-19: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Web-Based, ACT-Based, Guided Self-Help Intervention. Obes Facts. 2022;15(4):550-559.
- Richards R, Jones R, Whittle F, Hughes C, Hill A, Lawlor E, Bostock J, Bates S, Breeze P, Brennan A, Thomas C, Stubbings M, Woolston J, Griffin S, Ahern A. Development of a Web-Based, Guided Self-help, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy–Based Intervention for Weight Loss Maintenance: Evidence-, Theory-, and Person-Based Approach. JMIR Form Res 2022;6(1):e31801
News about SWiM-C
Read news stories about the Study.
- Medical Research Council
- NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research
- European Association for the Study of Obesity