Weight Watchers works - study

2011-09-08 14:38

London - 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 randomised controlled trial, considered the gold standard of scientific analysis, to directly compare a commercial weight-loss programme 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 generalisable to other economically developed countries".

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

Obesity a global epidemic

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% 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 neighbourhood.

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% or more of their initial body weight. Around 61% of patients in the Weight Watchers group lost at least 5% of their body weight, compared with 32% in the standard care group.

Solution to help transform health

The average weight loss at 12 months was 5.1kg for those using Weight Watchers, versus 2.2kg for those on standard care. For those who completed the full 12 months, average weight loss was 6.7kg on Weight Watchers versus 3.3kg 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 programmes like Weight Watchers become part of publicly funded health care.

They added that "the low cost of these programmes, 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.

  • zaatheist - 2011-09-08 15:32

    This press release was obviously issued by Weight Watchers.

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-09-08 15:55

      Seems a bit like it... but I'm not seeing any obvious signs of conflict of interest.

  • melissalarajones - 2011-09-08 16:12

    I've been on Weight Watchers, and also tried others, Weigh Less and Super Slim included. I always go back to Weight Watchers. It's effective, easy to follow, and you never feel deprived. I think the reason it's so effective, is because it puts most of the control of what you eat in your hands - it's not rigid and limited. I'm honestly not surprised by these findings, even if it was issued by the company.

      charley - 2011-09-08 17:25

      I can never understand anyone going on a diet. You have gone back to Weight Watchers, I assume, because you have put on some of the original weight you have losst. I have had to watch my weight all my life, but have never gone on a diet. I have been the same weight now for 20 years, by trying to eat sensible and, for the past two years have eaten very healthly. I now run 3 times a week, for 3ks, and by eating a healthy diet never feel deprived or that I'm acutally watching my weight. You can do it yourself if you really want to without having to join any organisation.

  • Cleppy - 2011-09-09 08:02

    5.1 kg in 12 months? That can't possibly be right. I lost more than in a month on my diet. Dr Cohen is the best thing ever. It's extremely strict but it works very quickly as long as you follow it 100%.

      squeegeepilot - 2011-09-21 10:32

      It will come back just as quickly - let's talk after 12 months! Any diet is useless unless it includes a lifestyle change.

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