Study: Weight Watchers Works Better than Clinical Weight Loss Programs

Another study endorses the effectiveness of the ubiquitous, points-based weight loss program

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Good news for people who do Weight Watchers: a study pitting the commercial weight-loss program against professionally directed weight loss treatments found that dieters stuck with Weight Watchers longer and were more likely to lose weight.

Researchers led by Angela Marinilli Pinto, an assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College in New York City, randomly assigned 141 overweight or obese men and women to one of three groups: a behavioral weight-loss treatment led by a health professional; Weight Watchers, whose weight-loss groups are led by peer counselors; or a hybrid program that started with 12 weeks of behavioral weight loss treatment, followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. All programs lasted a total of 48 weeks.

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People in all three groups experienced significant weight loss: it didn’t matter whether a health professional was running the treatment or not. On average, Weight Watchers users lost just over 13 lbs., compared with just under 12 lbs. for those who lasted all 48 weeks in the professionally led group, and nearly 8 lbs. for people in the combination treatment.

But the Weight Watchers group fared best overall. Nearly 37% of those doing Weight Watchers lost at least 10% of their starting weight, compared with 11% of those in the professionally led group and 15% of those in the hybrid group. The researchers said they were surprised, since they assumed the hybrid treatment would lead to the most success.

Further, the authors found, Weight Watchers members attended more meetings and were more likely to stick with the study to the end than people in the other two groups.

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The fact that a program like Weight Watchers can deliver clinically effective results is good news for overweight or obese Americans who may not have access to behavioral weight loss programs led by health care professionals, the authors noted. “With almost 70% of American adults classified as overweight or obese, there is a need to provide practical treatment solutions that are effective, accessible, and affordable,” said Pinto in a statement.

Many behavioral weight loss programs are run in academic medical facilities and can cost as much as $35 a week. Weight Watchers, on the other hand, costs only about $10 a week and the program is ubiquitous. It’s the largest commercial weight loss program in the U.S., with approximately 1.3 million members who spend more than $5 billion on Weight Watchers products and services yearly and attend more than 45,000 meetings each week. In other words, it’s easy for dieters to find.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Obesity.

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