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The University of Southampton

POWeR - cost effective online support for weight management

A multidisciplinary team at the University of Southampton has developed ‘POWeR’ – Positive Online Weight Reduction – a self-guided digital programme to initiate and sustain weight loss and physical activity. Research shows that POWeR has helped users lose enough weight to significantly reduce their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and that it costs less than standard NHS care.

POWeR banner

Research challenge and context

The obesity epidemic is a major health threat. Obesity is a significant cause of serious illness and disability, and the leading cause of preventable early death. Over one in four UK adults are obese and the annual cost of obesity to the NHS exceeds £6 billion a year. However, NHS staff do not have the resources to support long-term weight loss programmes.

Our solution

Professor Lucy Yardley worked with Professor Paul Little and colleagues from the School of Psychology and Faculty of Medicine to develop and trial the ‘POWeR’ (Positive Online Weight Reduction) programme to help users sustain weight loss with only limited support from nurses.

Clinical trials within primary care showed that POWeR helped people sustain weight loss for a year and cost less than standard NHS care. Weight loss achieved with POWeR was similar to the best available alternative programmes within primary care. Further trials have shown that POWeR can be adapted for use in a diverse range of community and  workplace settings (including the Royal Navy and with overweight mothers after giving birth) and to manage other health conditions that may be helped or prevented by weight loss or physical activity (e.g. hypertension and asthma).

POWeR screen slide

What was the impact?

With support from ESRC Impact Acceleration funding, POWeR was publicised to Public Health England and the Department of Health. As a result of the interest generated, contracts were negotiated and agreed with Hampshire County Council, Solent NHS Trust, and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to enable over two million people to access POWeR from 2017-2020.  

POWeR was highly valued in the community. Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council stated: “Our work with Professor Yardley’s team has brought huge benefits to Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council and beyond. We have been able to offer our residents and others outside our borough, an effective online programme for weight loss, which has been an extremely valuable and cost-effective addition to our services.”

In 2018, an Innovate UK grant was secured to enable University of Southampton researchers to partner with Changing Health, a company providing digital tools for diabetes management to the NHS. Through this partnership, POWeR was converted into a web app suitable for sustained national and international dissemination better supporting longer-term future implementation.

The app was initially provided to 600 patients managing diabetes through the Manchester Diabetes Test Bed and to 300 people in the Netherlands through a weight management pilot programme with a European health insurer.

Through competitive tendering, Changing Health won contracts to deliver POWeR to 4,000 patients through ‘Healthier You’, the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, which is a joint commitment from NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK.

Over 2020-2025, POWeR will be delivered to another 12,000 patients through the Healthier You programme. POWeR has also been adopted by NHS England as the weight management element of the National Diabetes Education Programme. This will see POWeR rolled out to a further 600,000 patients over the next 5 years. This national programme provides education resources for a wide range of individuals and groups, including under-served populations.

Key Publications

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