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A review of psychosocial pre-treatment predictors of weight control


PJ Teixeira, Faculdade de Motricidade Humana, Estrada da Costa, Cruz Quebrada, 1495-688 Lisboa, Portugal. E-mail:


Prompted by the large heterogeneity of individual results in obesity treatment, many studies have attempted to predict weight outcomes from information collected from participants before they start the programme. Identifying significant predictors of weight loss outcomes is central to improving treatments for obesity, as it could help professionals focus efforts on those most likely to benefit, suggest supplementary or alternative treatments for those less likely to succeed, and help in matching individuals to different treatments. To date, however, research efforts have resulted in weak predictive models with limited practical usefulness. The two primary goals of this article are to review the best individual-level psychosocial pre-treatment predictors of short- and long-term (1 year or more) weight loss and to identify research needs and propose directions for further work in this area. Results from original studies published since 1995 show that few previous weight loss attempts and an autonomous, self-motivated cognitive style are the best prospective predictors of successful weight management. In the more obese samples, higher initial body mass index (BMI) may also be correlated with larger absolute weight losses. Several variables, including binge eating, eating disinhibition and restraint, and depression/mood clearly do not predict treatment outcomes, when assessed before treatment. Importantly, for a considerable number of psychosocial constructs (e.g. eating self-efficacy, body image, self-esteem, outcome expectancies, weight-specific quality of life and several variables related to exercise), evidence is suggestive but inconsistent or too scant for an informed conclusion to be drawn. Results are discussed in the context of past and present conceptual and methodological limitations, and several future research directions are described.