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Objective

To determine the reliability of Internet-based information on community-based weight-loss programs and grade their degree of concordance with 2013 American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and The Obesity Society weight-management guidelines.

Methods

An online search was conducted for weight-loss programs in the Maryland-Washington, DC-Virginia corridor. Content analysis was performed to abstract program components from their websites, and then 80 programs were randomly selected for a telephone survey to verify this information. Reliability of Internet information was determined in comparison with telephone interview responses.

Results

Of the 191 programs, 1% were graded as high, 8% as moderate, and 91% as low with respect to guideline concordance based on website content. Fifty-two programs participated in the telephone survey (65% response rate). Program intensity, diet, physical activity, and use of behavioral strategies were underreported on websites as compared to description of these activities during the phone interview. Within the subsample, 6% of programs were graded as high based on website information, whereas 19% were graded as high after the telephone interview.

Conclusions

Most weight-loss programs in an urban, mid-Atlantic region do not currently offer guideline-concordant practices and fail to disclose key information online, which may make clinician referrals challenging.