Many people in the general population join commercial weight loss clubs such as Slimming World. But how easy is it for people with learning disabilities to join these groups and get help to lose weight?
Dr Liz Croot of ScHARR has secured funding from the MRC to research this question. The project is titled WiLD: Weight Loss for Learning Disabilities (Helping People with Learning Disabilities Go To Slimming Clubs if they Want To).
Liz Croot and Melanie Rimmer have been carrying out qualitative research with groups of people with learning disabilities, to find out what they know about healthy eating and exercise, as well as practical things like how people shop, cook and eat and how they manage their budgets.
Dr Croot said “Our findings so far indicate that people with learning disabilities have a great deal of knowledge about healthy eating. But like the rest of us they can find it difficult to put that knowledge into practice. They’ve told us the most important thing when trying to change your lifestyle is support from someone who understands you. That’s where a peer-support group, like a slimming club, can be much more effective than simply giving them information, such as leaflets or recipes”.
The next stage of the research will involve a national survey on the Slimming World website to recruit any members who have learning disabilities, and leaders (or “consultants”) who have run groups which included members with learning disabilities. A sample of these participants will be interviewed to find out what aspects of the intervention work well for them, and what can be modified to make it more accessible and relevant for people with learning disabilities. Collaboration with Slimming World makes this research possible, but Slimming World are not providing any funding for the work.
The research is guided by a steering group which is made up of people with learning disabilities. The steering group advise on matters such as development of Easy Read participant information documents and consent forms. They also advise on the structure and format of focus groups and interviews. In this way the research adheres to the disability-rights principle “Nothing about us without us”.
Liz and Melanie aim to identify a set of practices which will allow greater access to, and benefit from, mainstream commercial weight loss clubs for people with learning disabilities. They hope that some of their findings will be transferable to other mainstream commercial health and fitness activities such as gyms, yoga classes and so on.
“People with mild to moderate learning disabilities are more likely to be obese than people in the general population, and they have much poorer health outcomes,” said Dr Croot, “Improving their access to mainstream groups and services is a disability rights issue. And improving their access to health and fitness groups is a public health issue.”
The project website is at http://wild.group.shef.ac.uk/
You can follow the project Twitter feed at @WILD_ScHARR