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Review of commercial weight management programs in the United States

When commercial weight-loss programs were compared to control/education or behavioral counseling among overweight and obese adults based on weight-loss efficacy, adherence, and harms, Weight Watchers was ranked as one of the top programs in the 2015 Annals of Internal Medicine review. 

The Johns Hopkins University researchers identified 141 commercial and proprietary weight-loss programs, and focused on the 32 that incorporated nutrition and behavioral counseling. Of these programs, only 11 had data published from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or prospective studies that tested their effectiveness.

The review found that of the three companies leading the market share—Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, and Weight Watchers—there were 14 published RCTs and eight of those included Weight Watchers.  The review found that Weight Watchers consistently has greater weight losses than control/education participants and sustained it beyond 12 months, with low risk for adverse events.  The authors concluded that: “Clinicians might consider prioritizing referral only for those commercial programs that have a substantial body of evidence showing a consistent long-term effect.” 

 

How Weight Watchers compares to Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, and other weight-loss programs

 

Program Intensity Support Monthly
Cost
USPSTF
Criteria
RCTs
Weight Watchers High Group sessions
Online coaching
Online community forum
$43 Yes 8
Jenny Craig High 1-on-1 counseling $570 Yes 3
Nutrisystem High 1-on-1 counseling
Online community forum
$280 Yes 3
HMR High Group sessions
Telephone coaching
Medical supervision
$682 Yes 4
Medifast High 1-on-1 counseling
Online coaching
$424 Yes 1
OPTIFAST High 1-on-1 counseling
Group support
Medical supervision
$665 Yes 4
Atkins Self-directed Online community forum $10 (for book) No 8
The Biggest Loser Club Self-directed Online community forum $20 No 1
eDiets Self-directed Online nutrient support
Online community forum
$10 No 1
Lose It! Self-directed Online community forum Free No 1
SlimFast Self-directed Online nutrition support
Coaching text messages
$70 No 8

 

Source: Gudzune KA, et al. Efficacy of commercial weight loss programs: an updated systematic review.  Ann Intern Med. 2015; 162:501-512. 

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