Weight Watchers works, scientific study finds

LONDON Wed Sep 7, 2011 7:10pm EDT

1 of 2. Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson poses for photographs during an interview with Reuters at P.S. 111 Adolf S. Ochs Elementary School in New York City, September 15, 2010. Hudson, the Brand Ambassador for Weight Watchers was visiting the school to help launch their third annual Lose For Good campaign, an initiative that fights hunger where the company will donate up to $1 million to two leading hunger fighting organizations, Share Our Strength and Action Against Hunger.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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LONDON (Reuters) - Overweight patients told by their doctors to go to Weight Watchers lose around twice as much weight as people receiving standard weight loss care over 12 months, according to the findings of a study published on Thursday.

In the first randomized controlled trial -- considered the gold standard of scientific analysis -- to directly compare a commercial weight-loss program with standard care by family doctors, Weight Watchers was found to be more than twice as effective.

More people stuck to the Weight Watchers diet, they lost more weight and fat mass, and also shaved more off their waist measurements than those assigned to standard care.

Susan Jebb of Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Nutrition Research Unit, who led the study said the results showed that Weight Watchers is "a robust intervention that is generalizable to other economically developed countries."

"This kind of research is important so that we can identify clinically effective interventions to treat obesity," Jebb said.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, comes in the wake of research last month which said obesity is a global epidemic that is fast replacing tobacco as the single most important preventable cause of costly chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Worldwide, around 1.5 billion adults are overweight and another 0.5 billion are obese, with 170 million children classified as overweight or obese. Obesity takes up between 2 to 6 percent of healthcare costs in many countries.

In the weight loss study, which was funded by Weight Watchers International but run as an investigator-led trial with all data collection and analysis conducted by the independent research team, researchers assessed 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany and Britain.

Patients were randomly assigned to receive either 12 months of standard care as usually offered by the primary care team, or referred to and given a 12-month free membership for a Weight Watchers group in their neighborhood.

As well as losing twice as much weight as those in the standard care group, patients referred to Weight Watchers were also more than three times as likely to lose 10 percent or more of their initial body weight. Some 61 percent of patients in the Weight Watchers group lost at least 5 percent of their body weight, compared with 32 percent in the standard care group.

The average weight loss at 12 months was 5.1 kg for those using Weight Watchers versus 2.2 kg for those on standard care. For those who completed the full 12 months, average weight loss was 6.7 kg on Weight Watchers versus 3.3 kg on standard care.

In a commentary on the study, Kate Jolly and Paul Aveyard of the school of health and population sciences at Britain's Birmingham University said cost-effectiveness was a key factor in determining whether commercial programs like Weight Watchers become part of publicly funded health care.

They added that "the low cost of these programs -- at present about 50-60 for 12 weeks -- makes the case for incorporation intuitively appealing."

David Kirchhoff, CEO of Weight Watchers International said the Lancet study "proves that Weight Watchers is part of the solution to help transform the health of nations."

"There is a clear need for practical treatment solutions that are proven effective, affordable and scalable to have a population-wide impact," he said in a statement.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland)

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Comments (5)
Darliene wrote:
Studies, such as this one, are so dangerous because they are believed by people that are looking to “fit in” to a mold that society is pushing on us. Dieting leads to weight cycling and weight cycling has a greater potential of leading to a myriad of illnesses; a far greater risk than if the person maintained a consistent higher weight. I am always leery of any study that is funded by the same company that will be profiting from the findings, especially when there is no proven data that weight loss can be maintained.

Before you swallow this study whole, please read “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9

Sep 08, 2011 1:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MamaKaren wrote:
Weight Watchers doesn’t encourage short term weight loss and weight cycling, though. The program is focused on awareness of balanced nutrition and activity and on maintaining the goal weight once it is acheived. Part of the program is based on continued support and follow up after the weight is lost. When I did WW, I tried to set an unrealistic goal weight and my group leader showed me the reasons that I should focus on a higher weight as my goal. The program also included a lot of support on appropriate exercise for various ages, lifestyles and health conditions as well as advice about food. I think this is why it is successful for so many people.

Sep 08, 2011 8:57am EDT  --  Report as abuse
r.felder wrote:
I read this article with interest until I got to the part that said that the study was funded by Weight Watchers. I read no further. This information should have been in the first line.

Sep 08, 2011 9:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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