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A low-calorie diet of soups and shakes combined with regular counselling should be recommended by the NHS as a means of tackling obesity, according to research from the BMJ.
Known as total diet replacement programmes, they are designed for people diagnosed as clinically obese. At present they are only available privately, but NHS England is considering the possibility of recommending them, the case for which may be strengthened by the BMJ study.
The research involved 278 people from ten GP practices in Oxfordshire with the diet replacement programme - known as the Cambridge Weight Plan programme - for eight weeks. This reduced food intake to 810 Kcal per day.
Over the following four weeks they gradually reintroduced food to their diets, while each patient saw a counsellor once a week for 24 weeks in total to ensure they stuck to the diet.
A second group was given standard dietary advice from their GPs over the same period, at the end of which their comparative progress levels were assessed.
The result was those on the Cambridge Weight Plan programme found they lost weight three times as quickly as those who were given typical dietary advice by their doctors. In addition, their risk of developing heart disease and diabetes was lowered.
However, the study noted, the benefits can be reversed if people do not change their eating habits permanently.
As well as reducing unhealthy food in the diet, those who are overweight or obese are advised to increase their exercise levels in order to achieve an optimum weight.
Around a quarter of Britons are classed as obese.
Study author Paul Aveyard, a GP and professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "It's boring being on a normal diet and people struggle to stick to it for a year.
"But these programmes get you when your mental strength is at its highest.
"You have to concentrate effort into 12 weeks and because they eat so little, they lose a lot of weight quickly."
Written by Martin Lambert
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