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Weight Loss

Weight Loss Program in Sign Language Helps the Deaf

A group of deaf adults using American Sign Language in a healthy lifestyle program successfully lost weight, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions in March 2014 in San Francsico.

A release from the association reports that this is the first randomized trial of lifestyle modification or weight reduction with deaf people using American Sign Language (ASL). The participants had moderate improvements in their weight and level of physical activity after a 16-week program.

The release quotes lead author Steven Barnett, M.D., associate professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Rochester in New York, as saying, "Existing mainstream programs focused on weight and weight-related behaviors are often inaccessible to the deaf community. Collaboration with deaf ASL users is essential to develop accessible and culturally appropriate programs."

In partnership with the deaf community in Rochester, the researchers adapted a healthy lifestyle program shown to be effective in hearing people.

A previous study, using accessible public health surveillance in Rochester, found that obesity is more prevalent in the local deaf community than in the general population – slightly more than 34 percent of the deaf people were obese, compared to nearly 27 percent in the general population.

In the Deaf Weight Wise trial, 104 overweight or obese participants were either enrolled in the healthy lifestyle program, with weekly 2-hour group sessions, or assigned to a delayed group who would receive the intervention later.

For the group sessions, counselors used motivational interviewing techniques to encourage lifestyle change and help participants develop strategies to maintain healthy eating, such as in social situations and during stress. They were encouraged to exercise at least 150 minutes per week.

After six months, participants in the intervention group had lost 7.4 pounds more and reduced their BMI 1.35 points more than the delayed group. Most of the intervention group's participants (58.3 percent) lost at least 5 percent of their baseline weight, compared with 14.3 percent of the delayed group.

Researchers will continue to follow participants for 24 months.

"During program development and during the trial, deaf community members emphasized the importance of having deaf counselors," said Barnett, who directs the Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research. "I realize this is not possible to implement everywhere at present. We are working on program adaptations to address access to counselors who are deaf ASL users."

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