Whether we like it or not, money is often the key determinant of most of our decisions. We often weigh our options based on many different criteria, but at the end of the day, it is whether or not we can afford something that determines our course of action. Researchers say the same may be true with weight loss. In a new study published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers found that inexpensive, non-profit weight loss programs are the key to shedding pounds, and keeping them off.

“We know that people lose weight and then gain it back,” said author Dr. Nia S. Mitchell of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at CU Anschutz in a recent press release. “In this case, we found that people who renewed their annual membership in the program lost a clinically significant amount of weight and kept it off.” According to the study, “a clinically significant amount of weight” constitutes losing 5 percent or more of body weight because this percentage can improve weight-related conditions such as diabetes.

Mitchell and her team examined national, affordable weight loss program, Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS). The program, led by peer-volunteers, costs about $92 a year; $32 of this amount comes from an annual fee, while the rest is attributed to nominal local chapter dues costing about $5 per month. The program also features weekly meetings, divided into phases. The meeting phases focus on both weight loss and weight maintenance, while the weight maintenance phase continues indefinitely. Mitchell notes that there is little difference between the weight loss and maintenance phases, teaching participants proper weight management behaviors by enforcing that weight loss and maintenance are of equal importance.

For the study, Mitchell focused on 75,000 participants, to see who renewed their annual membership for the following seven years. Mitchell and her team found that within their first year with TOPS, 50 percent of participants reached clinically significant weight loss, and another 62 percent maintained that weight in the seven years thereafter.

Mitchell found this to be significant for several reasons. This study was the first to find both weight loss, and program retention over a seven year period in a national weight loss program. Also, many of those participants who stayed the seven year course were able to sustain clinically significant weight loss for seven years. Most importantly, because this program is affordable, it means that lasting weight loss is available to a majority of the public while its peer-led direction also makes it easier to mimic by other weight loss programs.

“Despite decades of obesity research two issues remain elusive in weight management: significant long-term weight-loss maintenance and widely accessible programs,” says Mitchell. “To reverse this epidemic we need to find programs that are effective at weight loss and maintenance, low-cost, and east to implement and disseminate widely.”

Mitchell notes that TOPS’ exemplary status also comes from its ability to access low-income, minority, and rural populations that may not be able to afford other weight loss programs.

“As long-term weight loss is difficult to achieve in any clinical circumstance, TOPS may be a viable option to treat those who are overweight or obese,” she says.

TOPS certainly does seem a step in the right direction, proving that cost-effective programming may be another key to combatting the obesity epidemic.

Source: Mitchell N, Polsky S, Catenacci V, et al. Up to 7 Years of Sustained Weight Loss for Weight-Loss Program Completers. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2015.