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Researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, along with teams from Exeter and Brunel universities, investigated the amount of weight lost and general improvement in fitness of two groups - those taking various exercise classes and those taking part in a simple walking programme.
By analysing the results of eight trials, scientists found "no consistent evidence" that exercise classes were preferable.
In fact, scientists found no significant difference in fitness, obesity, blood sugar levels, blood pressure or breathing between those walking and those taking classes.
It is thought some 1,300 exercise referral schemes across the UK send obese patients on a course of 10 to 12 fitness sessions, ranging from swimming to yoga or dance classes.
But according to this study, the same patients could achieve the same results simply by going for more walks.
Dr Toby Pavey, from Peninsula College co-ordinated the analysis, the results of which were published in the British Medical Journal.
Though Dr Pavey insisted there was no question that physical activity was essential for good health and the study did reveal a drop in depression levels among those taking part.
However, he added, "What it does do is question the effectiveness of the exercise referral programme as it is delivered at present.
"It is clear that, with increasing pressure on the NHS budgets and changes to the way in which services are commissioned as part of current NHS reforms, more work needs to be done to establish how existing referral programmes may be made more effective and who they should be targeted towards."
What do you think - a waste of money or a good way to encourage overweight patients to get active? Leave your comments below...