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Weight Watchers Gets Thumbs Up in Study

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 9, 2012 -- Commercial weight loss programs may offer as good if not better weight loss results than those led by a health professional, according to a new study.

It’s the first time the two types of group-based weight loss programs have been tested in a head-to-head comparison.

The results showed that people enrolled in a commercial weight loss program, Weight Watchers, lost as much weight as people in a professionally led behavioral weight loss program.

In fact, more than twice as many Weight Watchers participants lost at least 10% of their starting weight than those in a group led by a health professional or in a combination of the two weight loss programs.

Experts say the results may open up more affordable and effective weight loss options for the more than 70% of Americans classified as overweight or obese.

“I think this is a sign that we have learned from these weight loss programs led by a health professional,” says Rebecca Krukowski, PhD, assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. “Now we know that they can be disseminated by trained, lay health educators, including in commercial programs.”

Weight Loss Programs Put to the Test

Researchers say it’s the first study to compare weight loss results between commercial and professional weight loss programs, as well as look at whether combining the two programs produces better weight loss.

“We selected Weight Watchers because the philosophy was similar to professionally delivered programs in medical center settings,” says researcher Angela Marinilli Pinto, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College at the City University of New York.

“They both encourage weight loss through balanced lifestyle change, dietary changes such as consuming a diet high in whole foods and lower in fats, and encourage physical activity,” Pinto tells WebMD.

In the study, published in Obesity, 141 overweight and obese men and women were randomly divided into three groups and received one of the follwing, free of charge:

  • 48 weeks of nonsurgical, medically supervised weight loss treatment delivered by a health professional
  • 48 weeks of Weight Watchers, with group support led by a member who had successfully lost weight and maintained a healthy weight
  • A combination of 12 weeks in a medically supervised behavioral weight loss program followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers

By the end of the study, researchers found that people in the Weight Watchers group lost more weight -- an average of about 13 pounds -- than those in the combination group, who lost about 8 pounds.

Average weight loss in the professional weight loss program (about 12 pounds) was not significantly different from the other groups.

But more than one-third of the Weight Watchers participants lost 10% or more of their starting weight by the end of the study, compared with 15% in the combined group and 11% in the professional weight loss group.

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