Effectiveness of Weight Watchers

weightwatchersMedPage Today published an article about a randomized trial which found that the Weight Watchers program leads to better weight loss results than international standard care. The study participants were from Australia, Germany, and Great Britain, and consisted of 377 overweight individuals randomized to Weight Watchers and 395 to standard care.

The trial found that after a year, the participants following the Weight Watchers Program lost on average 11.1 pounds, while the standard care patients lost on average 5.0 pounds. Additionally, the Weight Watchers group saw better improvements in lipids and insulin sensitivity.

The Weight Watchers group attended weekly community-based meetings at no charge, where exercise and low-calorie eating was encouraged. Group leaders provided guidance on weight loss goals, but ultimately, the participants set their own goals. At the meetings, the members were weighed each week and they then participated in group discussion about various weight loss topics. They also were provided access to online weight loss tools. The participants on the standard care plan were counseled about diet and exercise, using national clinical guidelines from primary care providers.

A limitation to the study was that the participants had BMI of 27-35, so the results may not be applicable to people with a greater BMI. Additionally, almost 90% of participants were women. The study was conducted by the U.K. Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research division in Cambridge, England.

Dr. Matthew Brengman, Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery at Bon Secours Surgical Weight Loss, commented on the study, telling us: “This is a nice confirmation that any sustained rigorous (weekly) program that focuses the patient on what they are eating and what it contains can lead to moderate weight loss. This trial shows that sustained interest in Weight Watchers is certainly better than your doctor telling you to lose weight, and starting Weight Watchers and then stopping after a few weeks.

Dr. Brengman continued: “I think this reinforces that what we do in follow-up after weight loss surgery is important and possibly using a program like Weight Watchers in addition to weight loss surgery could lead to improved long term outcomes. This trial also showed that medical weight loss, even rigorous programs, rarely leads to greater than 20% excess weight loss. So, while the trial shows that the program is effective for people who were overweight and moderately obese, Weight Watchers would be hard to recommend to those who are severely or morbidly obese, other than as an adjunct to bariatric surgery”.

Last year, another study found that the Jenny Craig weight loss program had better results for overweight and obese women than standard care. You can read about that study here.

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