Adults referred to the commercial weight loss programme Weight Watchers shed twice as much weight as people who received standard care over a 12-month period.
Weight Watchers’ approach to dieting seems to tighten the belt more than other approaches to weight loss, according to a new study published in the Lancet. The new research, which was funded by Weight Watchers International but conducted by the U.K. Medical Research Council, compared 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany and the U.K. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 12 months of standard health care or a 12-month free membership to Weight Watchers.
The study is not the first time the Weight Watchers regimen — which is perhaps most famous for its points system — has outperformed other strategies. In June, Weight Watchers topped the list of commercial diet plans ranked by U.S. News and World Reports.
“Everyone is going to lose some weight here because there is a calorie deficit,” said Keith Ayoob, Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. People on Weight Watchers are probably more motivated to focus on long-term positive changes, and there’s lots of peer encouragement.
In clinical trials, researchers led by Susan Jebb of the UK Medical Research Council assessed 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany, and Britain. About half the patients received a year’s standard care, while the other half were given a 12-month free membership for a Weight Watchers group near their homes.
Sixty-one percent of the participants assigned to the commercial programme completed it, while 51 percent of the “standard care” group finished their programme. Overall, individuals in Weight Watchers lost around twice as much weight as did those in the other group, a mean loss of 5.1 kilograms versus 2.2. Among those who stuck with either programme to the end, the figures were 6.7 against 3.3 kg, respectively.
Participants randomised to Weight Watchers were also more than three times as likely to lose at least five percent of their bodyweight, said the study, published in The Lancet.
Weight Watchers offer weekly weighing and group support. It also promotes a balanced, reduced-energy diet along with increased physical activity. Primary care providers — sometimes nurses, sometimes doctors — generally offer weight-loss treatment in line with national guidelines, but vary in the level of supervision.
“The similar weight losses achieved in Australia, Germany, and the UK implies that this commercial programme, in partnership with primary care providers, is a robust intervention that is generalisable to other economically developed countries,” the researchers concluded.
The researchers emphasised the important role of family doctors and primary health-care providers in giving advice, and in making referrals to commercial weight-loss programmes.