Open Access Open Badges Research

Recruitment of young adults into a randomized controlled trial of weight gain prevention: message development, methods, and cost

Deborah F Tate16*, Jessica G LaRose2, Leah P Griffin3, Karen E Erickson1, Erica F Robichaud4, Letitia Perdue3, Mark A Espeland3 and Rena R Wing45

Author Affiliations

1 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

2 Virginia Commonwealth University, School of Medicine, One Capitol Square, 9th floor, Richmond, VA 23298, USA

3 Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA

4 The Miriam Hospital/Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, 196 Richmond Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA

5 Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

6 Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC-Chapel Hill, Rosenau Hall, Campus Box 7440, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7440, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Trials 2014, 15:326  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-326

Published: 16 August 2014



Young adulthood (age 18 to 35) is a high-risk period for unhealthy weight gain. Few studies have recruited for prevention of weight gain, particularly in young adults. This paper describes the recruitment protocol used in the Study of Novel Approaches to Prevention (SNAP).


We conducted extensive formative work to inform recruitment methods and message development. We worked with a professional marketing firm to synthesize major themes and subsequently develop age-appropriate messages for recruitment. A variety of approaches and channels were used across two clinical centers to recruit young adults who were normal or overweight (body mass index (BMI) 21 to 30 kg/m2) for a 3-year intervention designed to prevent weight gain. We tracked recruitment methods, yields, and costs by method. Logistic regression was used to identify recruitment methods that had the highest relative yield for subgroups of interest with covariate adjustments for clinic.


The final sample of 599 participants (27% minority, 22% male) was recruited over a 19-month period of sustained efforts. About 10% of those who initially expressed interest via a screening website were randomized. The most common reason for ineligibility was already being obese (BMI >30 kg/m2). The top two methods for recruitment were mass mailing followed by email; together they were cited by 62% of those recruited. Television, radio, paid print advertising, flyers and community events each yielded fewer than 10% of study participants. Email was the most cost-effective method per study participant recruited.


These findings can guide future efforts to recruit young adults and for trials targeting weight gain prevention.

Trial registration NCT01183689 (registered 13 August 2010).

weight gain prevention; young adults; recruitment methods; cost