Residential Treatment for Obesity

Residential or immersion-type obesity programs are intensive interventions that help individuals lose significant weight and improve other aspects of their lives. Treatments vary according to length of stay and daily schedules, but most integrate exercise, nutrition and psychology in their approaches. Residential obesity programs provide safe, supportive spaces necessary for both physical and emotional change, an opportunity not available to many overweight individuals in their current environments.


Participants in residential treatment for obesity exercise regularly and consume a reduced-calorie diet, but they also attend health classes and visit with physicians and psychologists, reports a study from the Duke University Medical Center 1. People also learn how to restructure their responses to boredom; instead of turning to food, they hike local trails or visit area attractions during their leisure time. Finally, while immersion elicits drastic change, this change is not always maintained when the participant returns to the home environment. Consequently, residential obesity programs provide support networks for people who have graduated from treatment, including phone therapy sessions and feedback for exercise and food journals.


Structure House, a residential weight loss center in Durham, North Carolina, says both male and female participants lose more than 6 percent of their total body weight on average over four weeks 3. However, while these results are important for obese individuals, they are not the only benefits of immersion programs. The Duke University study found that over 80 percent of participants report improvements in quality of life, including physical flexibility and mobility, and self-esteem and self-concept. Individuals also experience decreases in blood pressure and cholesterol, and many diabetic participants erase their dependence on insulin.

Time Frames

Most residential treatments for obesity average four weeks in duration, although both longer and shorter options are available. Structure House, for example, offers both extended stay programs and condensed return visits for participants who require more intervention 3. Adolescents can attend summer fitness camps for four to eight weeks and can enroll in specialized boarding schools for multiple years.


Residential treatments for obesity are available across the country and around the world. For adolescents, programs include both year-round academic facilities and summer weight loss camps. Adult facilities are more numerous, and reputation is an important factor in determining which treatments are truly successful. According the New York Times in a 2005 article, Durham, North Carolina, is known as the Diet Capital of the World, and most studies on the efficacy of residential treatments for obesity have been done at centers located in this city. The higher concentration of programs in the area has attracted more medical professionals, health experts and clinical researchers than are available at comparable facilities in other regions.


The multimodal approach offered by residential obesity facilities, while beneficial, is expensive. A four-week stay can cost over $10,000, and that does not include personal purchases such as clothing or medical supplies like glasses that will need to be replaced as individuals lose weight. Additionally, immersion programs are not always a one-time cost; when participants do not maintain their routines at home, they return for further treatment. Many programs accept only private pay, and many insurance companies do not reimburse for residential obesity treatments. However, IRS Ruling 202-19 does allow some morbidly obese individuals to deduct immersion programs from their taxes as qualifying medical expenses, and many businesses allow employees to include these treatments in their Flexible Spending Accounts.