April 8, 2004 -- Weight Watchers members who meet their weight goals tend to keep the pounds off, a new survey shows.
The good news is a far cry from what we've come to expect from weight-loss studies. Most of them show that when obese and overweight people lose weight, they gain most of it back within a year. Five years later, according to a National Institutes of Health study, dieters tend to re-gain "almost all" the lost weight in five years.
That's not the story with Weight Watchers weight losers. The study shows that after two years, three-fourths of their lost weight stays lost. After five years, half the lost weight was still gone. Drexel University psychologist Michael R. Lowe, PhD, a member of the Weight Watchers scientific advisory board, announced the findings in a news conference.
"This study provides clear evidence that among those reaching the goals of Weight Watchers, the weight maintenance is significantly better than that previously reported by the NIH," Lowe says.
Lowe's study was funded by Weight Watchers and based on a survey commissioned by Weight Watchers in July 2003.
The survey involved a national sample of more than 1,000 people who had met their weight targets after completing the Weight Watchers program. The independent firm that performed the survey then asked 600 more members to come to a study site. The 230 people who did this were weighed, and the difference between their reported weight and their actual weight was used to adjust the national sample.
"Among the 246 members surveyed after two years, the average weight lost was 24 pounds, and 6.7 pounds were regained after two years," Lowe says. "Among the 135 members surveyed after five years, the average weight lost was 19.6 pounds, and of that 9.9 pounds were regained."
Good Losers, Bad Losers
What's the secret to this success? Two things, says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers International Inc.
"First, our program lets members find the types and amounts of food and exercise that fit their personal goals and personal realities," Miller-Kovach said in the news conference. "Second, members attend weekly group meetings with leaders who have lost weight and kept it off. All our leaders are role models. And people get the support of other members of the group and can share methods and tips."
It's that level of support that may be crucial to keeping weight off, says Leslie Bonci (pronounced BAWN-see), MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Bonci is nutrition consultant to several professional, college, and high school sports teams as well as to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company.
"People doing Weight Watchers are keeping some ties to it. They go to meetings they are tracked better than in other programs," Bonci tells WebMD. "And with this type of eating pattern, it is not a diet in the strict sense of the word. It helps people find a certain calorie level that makes them good losers and keeps them maintaining the weight loss."
Bonci says that people who lose weight and keep it off -- whether they are on Weight Watchers or not -- have several things in common:
You don't have to be a Weight Watcher to keep lost weight off. But Bonci says that many people make the mistake of thinking they can go it alone. Few can. Bonci says that when people ask her for weight-loss help, she insists on a three-month commitment at the very least.
"It is going to take them that long to make the changes they need," she says. "I find that those who come in more regularly are doing the best. They may not be dropping pounds and pounds and pounds right off the bat, but they steadily lose weight and maintain that."