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Weight loss: Weight Watchers outperforms the doctor's office

September 08, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • A woman weighs during her first Weight Watchers meeting. A study in The Lancet showed that overweight adults lost about twice as much weight on the commercial program than patients whose doctors managed their weight loss.
A woman weighs during her first Weight Watchers meeting. A study in The Lancet… (KEN HIVELY / Los Angeles…)

Following the Weight Watchers program for a year helped people lose twice as much weight as following doctor's weight loss orders in a randomized trial, researchers reported Thursday in the journal The Lancet.

Primary care physicians in Australia, Germany and the U.K. recruited 772 overweight and obese adults.  About half were assigned to 12 months of care from a doctor, according to their country's national treatment standards.  The other 377 got a free yearlong membership to Weight Watchers.  

Over the course of the year, researchers took measurements of the patients' weight, fat mass, waist circumference and blood pressure.  Ultimately, 61% of the Weight Watchers group completed the 12 months; 54% of other doctor-treated groups did.  The researchers compared the patients' weight loss using several different methods.  On average, weight loss for the Weight Watchers members was 11.16 pounds, versus 4.96 pounds for the patients receiving standard care.

The greater weight loss in the Weight Watchers group led to greater reductions in waist circumference and fat mass, too, the authors wrote, suggesting that the program would also reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The team concluded that a program like Weight Watchers -- which provides regular weigh-ins, diet and exercise advice and group support, is widely available and is relatively inexpensive -- could be a useful intervention option for doctors who want to help patients lose weight.  They wrote that further research was needed to see if turning to such a commercial program was more cost-effective than a program of standard medical care.

Note: Weight Watchers funded the study but did not participate in the design, implementation of the data or analysis of the results.

Read here about high marks for Jenny Craig, another commercial weight loss program, as well as one Booster Shots blogger's journey on Weight Watchers.

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