A Qualitative Study Comparing Commercial and Health Service Weight Loss Groups, Classes and Clubs

Karen Karen Allan, Pat Hoddinott, Alison Avenell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Group-based interventions for weight loss are popular; however, little is known about how health service groups compare with the commercial sector, from either the participant or the group leader perspective. Currently, health professionals have little guidance on how to deliver effective group interventions. The present study aimed to compare and contrast leaders’ and attendees’ experiences of health service and commercial weight loss groups, through in-depth interviews and group observations.

Methods: Purposive sampling, guided by a sampling frame, was employed to identify diverse groups operating in Scotland with differing content, structures and style. Data collection and analysis took place concurrently in accordance with a grounded theory approach. Thirteen semi-structured group observations and in-depth audio-recorded interviews with 11 leaders and 22 attendees were conducted. Identification of themes and the construction of matrices to identify data patterns were guided by the Framework Method for qualitative analysis.

Results: Compared to commercial groups, health service ‘groups’ or ‘classes’ tended to offer smaller periodic fixed term groups, involving gatekeeper referral systems. Commercial organisations provide a fixed branded package, for ‘club’ or ‘class’ members, and most commercial leaders share personal experiences of losing weight. Health service leaders had less opportunity for supervision, peer support or specific training in how to run their groups compared to commercial leaders.

Conclusions: Commercial and health service groups differ in access; attendee and leader autonomy; engagement in group processes; and approaches to leadership and training, which could influence weight loss outcomes. Health service groups can provide different group content and experiences, particularly for those with chronic diseases and for populations less likely to attend commercial groups, such as men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-31
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number1
Early online date27 Aug 2010
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • commercial
  • groups
  • health service
  • qualitative
  • weight-loss


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