Background Unanticipated control group improvements have been observed in intervention trials targeting various health behaviours. This phenomenon has not been studied in the context of behavioural weight loss intervention trials. The purpose of this study is to conduct a systematic review and meta-regression of behavioural weight loss interventions to quantify control group weight change, and relate the size of this effect to specific trial and sample characteristics. Methods Database searches identified reports of intervention trials meeting the inclusion criteria. Data on control group weight change and possible explanatory factors were abstracted and analysed descriptively and quantitatively. Results 85 trials were reviewed and 72 were included in the meta-regression. While there was no change in control group weight, control groups receiving usual care lost 1 kg more than control groups that received no intervention, beyond measurement. Conclusions There are several possible explanations why control group changes occur in intervention trials targeting other behaviours, but not for weight loss. Control group participation may prevent weight gain, although more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.