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Dropout rate of weight loss programs.

September 3, 2010

I haven’t seen much talk in the Fatospehre about the attrition rate of weight loss programs (ie dropout rate).  But I want my arsenal of arguments to be complete.  If the attrition rate of weight loss studies or programs fall into any kind of pattern, I think that could be an interesting piece of information.

And while reading research articles I kept coming across mention of a “high attrition rate” in research studies.  In a systematic review of commercial weight loss programs the limitation was noted, “Because many studies did not control for high attrition rates, the reported results are probably a best-case scenario.”

In that same review, the attrition rate ranged from 18-67% in the first year.  I found an even wider range of numbers when I looked into clinical research studies, “…attrition rates in obesity trials range from 10% to 80%.”

You read that right…10-80%.  We might as well pick a number out of a hat.  And this is a well studied subject.  Everyone and their brother is trying to find some sort of answer as to why weight loss programs are not successful.

So, my research was a bust.

I decided I should still write about this becasue sometimes the information available doesn’t give us a conclusive answer.  I mean, I could use the argument that some researchers feel the attrition rate is high enough to skew the data…but all I’d be doing is repeating a theory that I’m not entirely sure has a firm basis.

(I’m not a statistician, so I don’t know if a 10% dropout could or couldn’t be controlled for, such that the final results are still sound.)

So…I’m removing the attrition rate of weight loss studies and programs from my list of arguments.  I’m filing that in my, “it’s too messy and inconclusive to explain” folder.

It’s not a very satisfying end to my journey.  But, as a critical thinker, I want to build arguments I can support.  This just happens to be one point I can’t use.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    September 3, 2010 1:55 pm

    I find it strange that there’s no explanation for those high attrition rates. Could it possibly be that the subjects’ bodies are rebelling so hard that there is no way the subjects can stay in the studies and stay sane, let alone stay healthy? Could it possibly be that the subjects get tired of being told that they’re lying when they hit a weight loss plateau – after all, if you’re following the protocol exactly, you should continue to lose weight, not hit a plateau and have to further reduce caloric intake in order to continue losing weight to hit whatever goal has been set. Maybe that attrition rate isn’t all from people dropping out of the study voluntarily – maybe some of those people were dropped from the study deliberately because they just didn’t give the results the researchers wanted/expected/were paid to find (yeah, I’m a cynical bitch when it comes to research and why it finds what it finds). So maybe there are reasons for fluctuating attrition rates, but the authors of those studies don’t want anyone to know what the real reasons are. If the real reasons were known, the results of their research might be questioned even more than it already is…….

  2. September 3, 2010 5:34 pm

    Remember the old saying,
    Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”😉

  3. September 3, 2010 10:52 pm

    Questions I would then ask: How common is it for attrition rates to be omitted from similar studies? For example, does research on the success of alcohol and drug dependence programs (after all, a diet is treating an inability to control our eating, right?) omit attrition rates? If the attrition rates are not included in the data available for scrutiny, does that make it more difficult to accurately interpret the results? Do they collect this information and refuse to release it or do they just not keep anything on attrition rates?

    I don’t think you should remove attrition rates from your arsenal at all. In fact, I think you’ve stumbled on a topic worth exploring in-depth. If somebody is omitting information that would, in essence, demonstrate the ineffectiveness of weight loss programs (for some reason, people are unable to stick with these so-called obesity “solutions” and that, in and of itself, is worth knowing).

    If that information were publicly available, it would seriously undermine their credibility. The range may be 10-80%, but what is the average attrition rate?

    We need a statistician in here, stat!


  4. June 8, 2011 3:33 pm

    As a health professional I find it disturbing that the drop out rate is so high for these weight loss support groups. I have facilitated many and inevitably people begin dropping out one by one. Those that remain I suspect were very high on the READINESS to change scale. I guess once they figure out that it’s no quick fix and you actually have to buckle down and change some things they get disillusioned.

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