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Nov 14, 2011

Does Weight Watchers Really Work?

Weight watchers helps Europeans lose twice as much weight compared to standard care.

With overweight and obesity rates continuing to rise, new and effective approaches for weight loss are essential to improving the heart health of the nation. However, the efficacy of commercial weight loss programs has caused some debate in recent years. Are commercial diets such as Weight Watchers effective in helping people lose weight, or are consumers wasting their money?

A recent study published in Lancet, a medical journal in the UK, demonstrated that Weight Watchers is more effective than standard primary care treatment for weight loss. Nearly 500 overweight and obese individuals participated in this study for one year. Half of the participants received a free 12-month membership to Weight Watchers, while the other half received standard weight loss recommendations from their primary care providers. Researchers found that individuals participating in Weight Watchers lost twice as much weight as those in the standard care group (11 lbs vs. 5 lbs weight loss).

These findings help validate the use of commercial programs such as Weight Watchers as effective weight loss tools. In comparison with standard care, typically consisting of weight loss advice based on clinical guidelines, Weight Watchers provides a more complete weight loss program, offering regular weigh-ins, advice on diet and physical activity, motivation and group support. Combined, those features make all the difference. As a result, doctors may begin referring overweight and obese patients to commercial weight loss programming instead of offering standard treatment to make a true and lasting health impact.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How important is maintaining a healthy weight?

  • Overweight and obesity greatly increase risk for diabetes, heart disease and a number of cancers — all of which can be life threatening. Therefore, it is important to take action toward maintaining a healthy weight, as losing just 5-10% of your weight can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for heart disease.
  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.

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