New Government-Funded Study Shows that Group Support Works for Weight Loss

Weight Watchers was found to be as effective and more affordable than a professionally delivered behavioral weight-loss intervention.
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A government study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Obesity1 demonstrated that overweight and obese adults who participated in 3 different weight-loss treatments, all involving intensive, multi-component counseling delivered in groups, lost clinically significant weight after 48 weeks whether the treatment was offered by Weight Watchers led trained peer counselors who have successfully lost weight, or by a healthcare professional. Weight Watchers was also found to be more affordable.

This study is the first to compare Weight Watchers to a university-based behavioral weight-loss (BWL) program, considered to be the “gold standard” in lifestyle modification treatment. A total of 141 participants with a baseline BMI of 36.2 ± 5.5 kg/m2 were randomized to one of three 48-week treatments, BWL alone, Weight Watchers alone, or 12 weeks of BWL followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. BWL included a calorie-reduced diet, physical activity goals, record keeping, behavioral skills, and group meetings. Weight Watchers participants received free vouchers to attend Weight Watchers meetings and access to online tools for instruction and support on the four pillars of Weight Watchers, namely, food, activity, behavior, and group support. All three groups were evaluated at 12 weeks, 24 weeks, and 48 weeks, where they self-reported on questionnaires and were weighed.

At the end of 48 weeks, all groups lost clinically significant weight, with a mean loss of 13.2 pounds for the Weight Watchers group, 11.9 pounds for the BWL group, and 7.9 pounds for the combined treatment (CT) group. A greater proportion of those on Weight Watchers, 36.7%, lost 10% of their baseline weight by 48 weeks, compared to the BWL (10.9%) and CT (15.2%) groups, and over half (51%) of the Weight Watchers group lost 5% or more of their starting weight.

Weight Watchers also topped the other approaches in retention, attendance, and affordability. Compared to BWL, Weight Watchers demonstrated greater study retention at 12 weeks (98% vs. 85%) and 24 weeks (94% vs. 80%). Better group attendance was associated with greater weight loss in all treatment groups from baseline to 24 weeks. However, during the latter half of the study period, the association between attendance and weight loss only remained significant for the Weight Watchers group. The Weight Watchers program was also more affordable. Costs were estimated to be $9.92 per week for Weight Watchers and up to $13.75 per weekly session of BWL.

Bottom Line
The findings of this research are consistent with other recent studies showing weight- loss success on Weight Watchers when compared to other types of programs provided by a healthcare provider.2-4 Furthermore, group support led by peers is both widely available, scalable and affordable.

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FOOTNOTES

1Pinto AM, Fava JL, Hoffmann DA, Wing RR. Combining behavioral weight loss treatment and a commercial program: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity 2012, advanced online publication.
2Jebb SA, Ahern AL, Olson AD, et al. Primary care referral to a commercial provider for weight loss treatment versus standard care: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2011;378:1485-92.
3Ahern AL, Olson AD, Aston LM, Jebb SA. Weight Watchers on prescription: An observational study of weight change among adults referred to Weight Watchers by the NHS. BMC Public Health 2011;11:434-8.
4Jolly K, Lewis A, Beach J, et al. Comparison of range of commercial or primary care led weight reduction programmes with minimal intervention control for weight loss in obesity: Lighten Up randomised controlled trial. Br Med J 2011;343:d6500.

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