Development of a New Online Adult Weight Management Programme

Development of a New Online Adult Weight Management Programme

29th March 2020

AppleTree's 2019 festive blog Image

This week a new 12-week online weight management programme, written and developed by AppleTree Healthy Lifestyle Consultancy, has gone online at This was both a major and exciting piece of work for AppleTree to undertake and I want to use this blog to outline how we went about developing the programme. 

In our current period of social distancing and self-isolation this is an ideal time to be looking at online advice from a trusted source on living healthy lives.

At the beginning of 2019, we were commissioned by the British Dietetic Association to write a 12-week adult weight management programme for NHS Health Scotland (now Public Health Scotland) to sit on the NHS Inform website. We started the work in mid-February 2019 and finished in mid-September 2019 when we handed over the final programme. NHS Inform then worked on fitting it into 'internet speak' and their corporate style, with post project discussions carrying on between Dr Laura, NHS Health Scotland and NHS Inform into March 2020.

"We were very pleased to work with Dr Laura Stewart on the development of this important piece of work. The new 12-week programme will be used by many people to improve their diet, and we're very pleased that it has been developed in an evidence-based way by an expert dietitian and her team at AppleTree Healthy Lifestyle Consultancy."  Tom Embury, Public Affairs Officer, British Dietetic Association.

Project team

AppleTree Healthy Lifestyle Consultancy's model is to pull in expertise to fit a project and the team for this project consisted of -

  • Dr Laura - with over 35 years experience of weight management in the NHS and Appletree's founder/Lead Consultant
  • Dr Clare Neilson - an experienced clinical psychologist in weight management
  • Dr Thomas Stewart - bringing his social research and focus group expertise
  • Dr David Stewart - who undertook desktop research, helped with data analysis and admin.


 "We have benefited enormously from Laura's and the AppleTree team's experience and expert knowledge in nutrition and behavioural psychology. Laura ensured we were provided with an evidence based resource which met our needs and the needs of the user groups she facilitated. Laura has done a fantastic job of managing comments and expectations from a number of different stakeholders, always behaving in a professional manner, she really went over and above what was expected of her to ensure we were happy. A big thanks from me." Yvonne Traynor, Health Improvement Office, Diet & Healthy Weight, Public Health Scotland.

 Development process

Our first task was to carry out an online survey asking people what they would like to see in an online weight management programme and, if they had used one before, what they had found useful. We used Survey Monkey and sent this out via NHS Health Scotland to all Scottish NHS Health Boards' weight management services, as well as through social media. We got a great return on this survey, with 336 responses. A summary of the results can be seen on PowerPoint here.

We used the Survey Monkey results to produce a draft overview of the content for each of the 12-weeks, including possible links to other sites and useful online tools. We used the importance given to topics from the survey to determine the topics' order within the programme.

As the new online programme was to be aimed at those wishing to manage their weight, we sought to test our thoughts on the programme structure, topics, content and terms used on people who had recent experience of tier 2 adult weight management programmes. Dr Laura and Thomas spent the month of May running around Scotland organising and carrying out focus groups. We successfully carried out 5 focus groups in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Dundee and Ayr with 23 people. A PowerPoint summary of the focus groups can be seen here.

After the focus groups, changes were made to topic placement within the programme, useful links added and we finalised the terms we were to use throughout the programme. Then Dr Laura and Clare set about the hard part of writing the actual content.

AppleTree's 2019 festive blog Image

A draft of the full programme was then shared with a group of around 18 professional reviewers across Scotland as well as members of the BDA's Obesity Specialist Group. Wording, emphasis on particular topics and some topic order were updated and changed in response to the comments received. 

It was with a feeling of a job well done that we handed over the final version of the full programme in early September 2019. NHS Inform then took over the job of getting the work put on their beta site using corporate style. This was tested with the public through NHS Inform's usual channels, with NHS Health Scotland having a further professional review of the programme after this was completed. After handing over the programme Dr Laura remained involved with -

  • Sense checking any changes to wording, condensing topics and topic order to ensure the integrity of the programme.
  • Advising on possible key performance indicator for the online programme.
  • Reviewing and commenting on the further professional review.


Online version

For technical and resource reasons, not everything in our final programme version has made it online. Such as an interactive quiz at weeks 1, 4, 8 and 12, our full version of the Hunger Scale and our recommendation of having video clips from people with lived experience of weight management. Nonetheless, this was a major undertaking and I am very proud of the end product. Please enjoy the programme and share with as many people as possible who you think will benefit from using it.

Our thanks

A very warm thank you to everyone who answered the online questionnaire, took part in the focus groups, NHS and non-NHS colleagues who helped organise the focus groups and distributed the questionnaire, our links at Public Health Scotland, NHS Inform and the BDA. As well as thanks to Clare, Thomas and David for all their hard work.

Dr Laura Stewart

April 2020