Researchers from the University of Glasgow have been awarded £1 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate weight loss treatment for long COVID.

The multi-disciplinary research team, led by Dr Emilie Combet and Dr David Blane, will lead the Remote Diet Intervention to REduce long Covid symptoms Trial (ReDIRECT) to test whether a well-established weight management programme, delivered and supported entirely remotely, can improve symptoms for people with long COVID and overweight/obesity.

ReDIRECT is one of 15 new studies across UK to expand research that will support thousands of vulnerable people and those affected by COVID. Funded by NIHR, the study shares in almost £20 million for research projects, that will ultimately help improve understanding of long COVID and identify effective treatments

Around 10% of people infected with COVID-19 have symptoms for 12 weeks or longer (long COVID). There are, as yet, no established treatments for people living with long COVID.

Weight management programmes in adults with overweight /obesity can reduce symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and pains, which are also common with long COVID. However, researchers do not know how effective intentional weight loss is to reduce these symptoms for overweight people with long COVID.

Dr David Blane, Clinical Research Fellow in General Practice & Primary Care said: “We’re delighted to be doing this research, working closely with people affected by long Covid. We know that people with long Covid are frustrated by the lack of treatment and support options currently available.”

Dr Emilie Combet, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, said: “People with long COVID have overweight/obesity to a similar extent than the rest of the population, which may worsen their symptoms. This project will tailor and test a well-established weight management programme, delivered and supported entirely remotely.”

The research team will work closely with overweight people who are experiencing long COVID to adapt and evaluate the weight management programme, which can be followed remotely from home. A trial will be conducted with 200 people, identified through their GP, patient and community groups. A key feature of the trial is its focus on patient-select key health outcomes, recognising the broad range of long COVID symptoms identified by patients.

Half of the participants will receive the personalised, professionally-supported weight management programme, while the other half receives usual care, with a goal to compare long COVID symptoms, weight loss, quality of life and value for money after 6 months. The control group will also receive the intervention, after a 6-month delay. Experiences of both groups will be documented for 12 months.

Laura Sloman, Chief Operating Officer of Counterweight, commented: “We are delighted to be collaborating with the University of Glasgow on this important research project. Obesity and type 2 diabetes have been shown to elevate the risks of hospitalisation and mortality due to COVID-19 infection.

“Our Counterweight-Plus programme has been widely used by people looking to lose weight and achieve diabetes remission in order to reduce this risk. Now we have the opportunity to investigate how following the programme may also improve recovery from long-COVID for those living with overweight and obesity.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, Chair of NIHR’s long COVID funding committee and Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), said: “This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after COVID-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long COVID, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care. Together with our earlier round of funding, NIHR has invested millions into research covering the full gamut of causes, mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of long COVID.”