Lessons learned about primary weight maintenance and secondary weight maintenance: results from a qualitative study

Type Article

Journal Article


A. Reilly; B. Mawn; D. Susta; A. Staines; S. Browne; M. R. Sweeney

Year of publication



BMC Public Health







BACKGROUND: Obesity is now a worldwide problem and Ireland is no exception with approximately two thirds of the adult population now overweight or obese. A recent report has found that 53% of Irish adults aged 50 years and over are classified as centrally obese and at substantially increased risk of metabolic complications. While most studies investigating weight maintenance have been conducted on those who have managed to lose weight and/or achieved weight loss maintenance (secondary weight maintainers), few studies have been undertaken to understand the attitudes, behaviours, motivations and strategies of those who maintain their weight within normal weight ranges over their lifetime, so called primary weight maintainers. This study aims to explore this issue through qualitative exploration of primary weight maintainers in an Irish University. METHODS: Seven focus groups were conducted (including three single interviews) with 17 participants in total across three different groups, 1) primary weight maintainers, 2) secondary weight maintainers, and 3) those unable to sustain or achieve weight loss. The interviews were transcribed and thematic analysis was applied to interpret the findings. RESULTS: After analyzing the participant's interviews, planning and organization or lack of, emerged as themes across the three groups in varying degrees. Strategizing, perseverance and willpower were seen as integral to weight maintenance and weight loss in groups one and two, these were lacking in group three. Prioritizing exercise and perseverance in maintaining a high level of activity was evident in groups one and two and was lacking in group three. Motivational influences were equal across the groups however, group three found it difficult to turn this into action. Group one had behavioural control of calorie intake maintaining a balance between week and weekend eating. Group three found it difficult to control calorie intake and portion size. Self-image differed across the three groups with cognitive dissonance evident amongst those in group three. CONCLUSIONS: This study showed that there are many factors that influence primary weight maintenance. Considering that we live in a society that is predominantly sedentary, predominantly overweight and with poor food choice options facing us every day, fighting our way through to ensure healthy weight maintenance requires active, conscious efforts. The factors identified in this study which are important in healthy weight maintenance are all potentially modifiable with life-coach, nutrition, exercise and cognitive interventions particularly if peer support and a whole family approach are incorporated.