Evolution & history of WeightWatchers

From technological advances to advancing nutritional advice, discover how WW has grown to inspire millions of people towards happier and healthier lives.
Published 27 May 2019

Looking back: 57 years of WW

  • 1961

It all began in September 1961, with a then 37-year-old Jean Nidetch. Jean, who had been overweight most of her life, had become discouraged by years of fad diets – having tried pills, hypnosis, and numerous fad programs, all of which led to regained weight. Deciding to seek medically-backed guidance instead, Jean entered a free 10-week weight-loss program sponsored by the New York City Board of Health's obesity clinic. The program was called the "Prudent Diet". Jean lost 20lbs (9kg), but her motivation waned with the lack of peer support she received during the program. This is when Jean’s weekly meetings with her own support group began, and the seed for WeightWatchers® was planted.

  • 1962

Jean began her own weight loss support group by inviting some of her friends to her home once a week to discuss their goals, tips and challenges on their weight loss journey. Soon, Jean was squeezing more than 40 people into her apartment each week and they quickly realised that losing weight was about much more than simply following a healthy eating plan.

  • 1963

As word spread and attendee numbers grew, Nidetch finally launched WeightWatchers Inc. in May, 1963. The first official meeting, held in a rented loft above a movie theatre in Queens, New York, attracted over 400 attendees.

Nidetch initially led each meeting, but eventually invited former attendees to franchise their own branches and run their own meetings. The winning formula of WeightWatchers quickly spread across America, and soon, it would spread across the world.

  • 1966

The first cookbook was published, featuring program information, menu plans and 550 recipes. The cookbook reached the top of the bestseller list and sold more than 1.5 million copies.

  • 1968

After tens of thousands of success stories in just a few years, WeightWatchers quickly amassed one million members worldwide. Soon after, WeightWatchers released their first product range, with heat-and-eat meals, travel kits, and scales.

  • 1969

In April, 1969 WeightWatchers opened its doors in Australia, holding the first Meeting in Sydney, which would eventually grow to include more than 400 locations in every state and territory.

  • 1972

New Zealand soon joined the rest of the world with its own WeightWatchers success stories, launching the first Meeting in Auckland in 1972.

  • 1973

17,000 people gathered in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate WeightWatcher’s 10th anniversary. Celebrities such as Bob Hope and Pearl Bailey made guest appearances and Jean Nidetch captivated the crowd with her inspirational words until 1:30 am.

  • 1978

In 1978, HJ Heinz Co. bought WeightWatchers for US$71 million. Heinz would eventually sell WeightWatchers in 1999, but it continued to develop and distribute WW branded products until 2018.

  • 1983

Actress Lynn Redgrave became WeightWatchers’ first celebrity spokesperson and starred in several commercials promoting WW frozen meals. She successfully lost 35 pounds (16kg).

  • 1988

Always at the forefront of nutritional innovation, in 1988, Jean Nidetch launched a new WeightWatchers food program, ‘Quick Success’, increasing the recommended vegetable intake from 2 to 3 minimum serves and introduced a vegetarian meal plan option.

  • 1997

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, became a spokesperson in 1997. During her 11 year endorsement, she released five lifestyle books with WW and appeared on the cover of the ANZ magazine five times.

  • 1998

In 1998, WeightWatchers introduced the first points system – ‘1,2,3 Success Points Plan’. While foods were assigned a points value, a core food plan was still provided to members, with the points only used as a substitute for the diet exchanges from the earlier programs.

  • 2000

Two years later, ‘Winning Points’ was launched as a more personalised version of the Points Plan. Winning Points did not exclude any foods, and it introduced mindset and fitness pillars, which are still considered core pillars of the program today.

  • 2001

WeightWatchers.com went live! Providing members with our very first online community of Message Boards and Plan Manager to track weight, food and exercise.

  • 2002

'Pure Points' was launched to give members more freedom to make the program fit their lifestyle.

  • 2004

A new program innovation was launched, ‘Time for Success’ focused on the food/feelings connection, further building WeightWatchers’ expertise and leadership in the area of mindfulness and healthy eating.

  • 2009

WeightWatchers became a tech leader in weight loss, upon launching the WW app and e-tools to provide members with 24/7 personalised support.

  • 2010

In another program innovation for WeightWatchers, ‘ProPoints’ arrived, with fruits and non-starchy vegetables now worth zero points. Daily points increased from 22 to 31 and processed foods were assigned higher points values.

  • 2014

Personal coaching and 24/7 live chat launched in 2014. For the first time, coaches became just a click away any time of day and personal coaching members received a personalised weight loss plan.

  • 2015

WeightWatchers’ members-only digital social platform, ‘Connect’ went live. Members from across Australia and New Zealand were now able to share their experiences and support with other members through their posts on Connect. Also in 2015, Oprah Winfrey became a spokesperson and continues to inspire millions of members today!

  • 2016

The ‘Your Way’ program was launched, including the innovations of 'SmartPoints' and 'FitPoints'. Members now received a personalised physical activity points goal instead of just being able to swap their activity-earned points for food points.

  • 2018

WeightWatchers reimagined! In 2018, WeightWatchers became ‘WW’ and announced a renewed purpose: We inspire healthy habits for real life. For people, families, communities, the world—for everyone. The rebrand reflected WW’s commitment to becoming the world’s partner in wellness. While WW remained the global leader in weight loss, it also welcomed anyone who wanted to build healthy habits—whether that meant eating better, moving more, developing a positive mindset, focusing on weight… or all of the above! The app was now configured to help people reach all their wellness goals, not just weight loss.

'WW Freestyle' arrived, adding 200 foods to the ZeroPoint foods list and unveiling rollovers. WW also announced that they were removing all artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours, and preservatives from WW food products worldwide.

WW launched a partnership with Headspace to create custom mindfulness content that members could tap into from the WW app—anytime, anywhere.

WW also launched Guided Workouts with Aaptiv. Partnering with Aaptiv, the leader in audio fitness instruction, members could be inspired to move more – when, where, and how they wanted to.

WW launched its Healthy Kitchen range—a line of kitchen tools and cookbooks that made it simpler and easier to eat well.

  • 2019

WW continues to be the global leader in wellness and weight loss! From humble beginnings between Jean Nidetch and a group of friends – that group of friends has now grown to over 4.6 million members worldwide.

Nidetch’s legacy of empathy, compassion and community support is still at the core of the program. With over 500 WW Studio locations across Australia and New Zealand (and thousands more across the world), WW gathers members every week to help them reach their weight loss and wellness goals.