Over the phone fat coaching

Getting healthy ... Ian Corbridge has kept the weight off since starting the program two years ago.
Getting healthy ... Ian Corbridge has kept the weight off since starting the program two years ago.

Two years ago, small business owner Ian Corbridge weighed 97kg.

Within 12 months, the 55-year-old lost 20kg aided by lots of walking and a public health information line aimed at helping people lose weight.

The free, NSW government funded Get Healthy program has been trialled for two years and its results have just been published.

More than 18,000 people signed up and an evaluation by the University of Sydney found participants lost, on average, four kilograms and five centimetres from their waists. More than that, participants were able to keep weight off, even six months after completing the program.

The scheme, set up to target rural and remote areas of NSW, offers nutritional and exercise advice to overweight people over the course of 10 phone calls in six months.

"Trained exercise physiologists, who also have nutrition training, provide information and coaching [to participants]," said an evaluator, Professor Chris Rissel from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. "The results are meaningful clinically. They are keeping the weight off in the longer term."

Professor Adrian Bauman, who led the research, added: "The Get Healthy Service is making substantial improvements to the chronic disease risk factor profile of people in the community and, importantly, has succeeded in being used by those who need it the most."

Mr Corbridge can vouch for that.

Two years ago he saw a TV advertisement for Get Healthy. It showed a man walking and progressively becoming older and more overweight. "It made a real impact on me," he said. "It was similar to me and a lot of other people I know... I [had become] overweight, didn't exercise and had a bad lifestyle, eating all the wrong things."

Despite giving up alcohol in 2008, he had substituted sugary soft drinks for beer and would regularly stop off at the bakery for a snack to supplement his home-made work lunches.

He realised he was stuck in a rut which could have long-term health implications. After a month of procrastination, and at the urging of his wife, he signed up for the six-month program.

In the first phone call to his personal coach, he discussed his lifestyle, the sort of exercise he enjoyed and made a provisional plan for losing weight. "We set up [achievable] goals and they said 'let's try this and see how it goes,"' he recalled

By his first review call three weeks later, he had lost seven kilograms and seven centimetres around his waist. "You've got to want to do it yourself. I wanted to change my life," he said. "From day one, I gave up all junk food – fast food and soft drinks. And my wife and I started to walk together."

Another six months and eight phone calls later, he lost 22 kilograms.

"I found the ongoing encouragement made the difference," he said. "They were following up and if you slipped up there wasn't condemnation."

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Mr Corbridge who eats well but has the odd bit of chocolate "now and then" has maintained his weight and health. He completed the 100 kilometre Oxfam walk earlier this year and climbed Kilamanjaro with his wife, something he said was a beautiful bonding experience and previously inconceivable.

"Two years ago, there's no way I could have done it," he said. "Two years later, I'm fit and healthy. It worked. It changed me."

Professor Rissel said the initiative has been so successful there are plans to roll it out across the country and expand on the current model. "Queensland and WA are looking at contracting out the model," he said. "The next stage is engaging with clinical services providers – dietitions, cardiologists, etcetera."

He also said "a diabetes-specific model" will start in NSW in the new year, potentially alongside a version of the program targeting women at risk of gestational diabetes.

This story Over the phone fat coaching first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.