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New weight-loss study seeks to help mobility-impaired individuals get healthier

January 31, 2020

By Anne Christiansen-Bullers

Individual holding dumbell while seated in wheelchair

Use of a wheelchair, walker or cane presents unique challenges to those trying to lose weight. How do you work out when mobility is an issue? How do you go to a weight-loss clinic if you have difficulty driving yourself?

A new research study at the University of Kansas Medical Center will explore and compare different methods to help. Named Mobility Impaired Get Healthy Together (MIGHTY), the study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It's part of a group of studies at the KU Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management.

MIGHTY will need around 130 participants. Each participant will receive a free iPad if he or she meets certain criteria and agrees to the study's 18-month time commitment.

"The iPad is a nice bonus, but participants will also receive support from a health educator on changing their diet and increasing physical activity for weight loss and other health benefits. Additionally, all participants will get a home scale compatible with wheelchair use." explained Anna Gorczyca, Ph.D., assistant research professor for the department of internal medicine.

Two groups defined by tech use

Once admitted into the clinical study, participants will be randomly assigned one of two groups. One will take a "high-tech" approach to weight loss, the other a more personal but "low-tech" approach.

Those assigned to the "high-tech" group will have:

  • Group sessions with a health educator via video conferencing on the iPad
  • Use of an iPad app to track food intake and activity
  • Use of an electronic fitness tracker (also provided free to participants)

Those assigned to the individualized, "low-tech" portion of the study will have:

  • Face-to-face home visits from a health educator
  • A weekly phone call and text message from the health educator
  • Use of pen and paper to track food intake and activity

Health educators will share the same information with participants from both groups, and the length and number of sessions will be consistent. Only the method of delivery will vary, Gorczyca said.

"They're meeting every other week for the first 12 months, and then once a month for the last six months in both groups," she said.

Travel time for both groups will be very limited, since the program is coming to the participants, and not the other way around.

"We have another current study conducted in rural populations, and again, travel is a barrier to weight management, so we deliver the program remotely," Gorczyca said.

Special interest in technology as tool

Delivering health programs remotely is a special interest for Joseph Donnelly, Ed.D., professor of medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management. Including the MIGHTY and rural study, the center currently has funding for eight NIH grants, of which all have a remote-delivery aspect.

Patient and doctor at weight loss clinic

RELATED: About the KU Center for Physical Activity and Weight Loss

"Overall, one of the goals of our center is using technology to decrease barriers to physical activity and weight management services," Gorczyca said. "So, a lot of our research studies are geared towards underserved populations who have barriers to treatment and to help reduce those barriers."

Gorczyca said convenience is one benefit of remote delivery via technology, but an equally important factor is the cost. When health educators work with a group through video conferencing, the cost of delivery stretches much farther than face-to-face meetings with participants. However, the cost savings are only worthwhile if high-tech, group delivery is as effective (or better) in getting participants to lose weight and get healthier.

"In all these studies, we're evaluating cost and cost effectiveness to determine if there are less expensive ways to reach these populations versus other options," she said.

Principal investigators for the study are Donnelly and Richard Washburn, PhD., senior scientist in the department of internal medicine. Washburn's prior research addressed activity levels in wheelchair users and mobility-impaired individuals.

"Obviously, this new study is a natural extension of his previous research," Gorczyca said.

For more information about the MIGHTY study, including the survey to see if you may be eligible to be a clinical trial participant, visit the MIGHTY website.

Last modified: Jan 31, 2020
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