The role of social support in conservative treatment for obesity: A qualitative study comparing the experiences of participating in a camp-based weight-loss program with or without a significant other
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Purpose: The aim of the study was to investigate the role of social support in conservative treatment for obesity and also in the participants’ everyday life, by comparing experiences of those participating in a camp based weight-loss program with or without bringing a significant other. Material and methods: This was a comparative qualitative study which was a part of the non-randomized controlled trial “Family & Friends”, investigating the effect of having a significant other participating in parts of a camp-based lifestyle treatment program for morbid obesity (BMI>40 kg/m 2 or BMI>35 kg/m2 with obesity related comorbidities). A purposive sample of participants from the groups with (group A) and without significant others (group B) were separately interviewed and/or in groups. The main question in the interview guide was about the role the participants’ family and friends played in the treatment program they were participating in (both at camp and at home). The data was analyzed according to systematic text condensation. Results: A total of 20 persons (10 from group A and 10 from group B) were interviewed. The participants consisted of morbidly obese men and women between the age of 27 and 53. Participants from group A, who brought significant others, told that as a result of the program they opened more up to significant others about their problems and felt that the significant others understood more about their situation and helped them out with the lifestyle changes after they had been educated in the program. Moreover, some had brought significant others that they felt were not important to whether they succeeded or not, or not very interested in helping the participants out. Similarities between the groups regarding social support were that in both groups there were found participants who said they were reluctant to open up about personal problems, had experienced positive effect of pep-talks and positive feedback, used self-help groups and had significant others joining them as exercise partners. Conclusions: Bringing a significant other made it easier for participants to open up about personal problems and they experienced more social support in everyday life with a positive impact on the household diet and level of physical activity, seen as due to the significant others’ education during the treatment program. To achieve this effect, the study indicated that the support partner should be someone with a close relationship to the participant who one thinks might be interested in helping the participant with lifestyle changes. Relevance: This study gives knowledge about how the patient’s social support network in conservative treatment for obesity might enhance outcomes by including significant others in the treatment. Assessing the patient’s level of social support and tailoring the intervention thereafter seems to be important. There is a need for larger studies to confirm this and to look more closely at how to tailor treatments around the patient and the significant other. Further research should focus on the perspectives of the significant other, on selection of support partners and on tailoring the treatment around the participant and support partner.