Weight Watchers works better than usual care
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Commercial weight loss programmes may be far more effective than standard care for overweight people, shows research published online first in The Lancet. Patients referred to their local Weight Watchers lost about twice as much weight, over a year, as their peers who had standard care with their general practice.
Researchers from the MRC Human Nutrition Research Unit in Cambridge conducted a study of 772 overweight and obese adults in the UK, Germany and Australia. They randomly assigned them to either the standard care that their general practice offered, or to referral to their local Weight Watchers, including 12 months’ free membership of the programme.
Overall, Weight Watchers participants lost roughly twice as much weight (mean loss 5.1 kg) as those who had usual care (mean loss 2.2 kg).
Only between half and two-thirds of all patients completed the 12-month assessment – 61% of those assigned to Weight Watchers, and 54% of those in the usual care group. Of those who did, mean weight loss was 6.7 kg for Weight Watchers patients, and 3.3 kg for those receiving usual care.
People in the Weight Watchers programme were more than three times as likely as their peers having standard care to lose at least 5% of their body weight. The Weight Watchers group also had greater reductions in fat mass and waist circumference, which the authors pointed out would reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The commercial programme was similarly successful in all three countries, which the study’s authors say “implies that this commercial programme, in partnership with primary care providers, is a robust intervention that is generalisable to other economically developed countries.”
They concluded: “Data from our study suggest that referral by a primary health-care professional to a commercial weight loss programme that provides regular weighing, advice about diet and physical activity, motivation, and group support can offer a clinically useful early intervention for weight management in overweight and obese people that can be delivered at large scale.
“Further research is needed to examine long-term weight loss maintenance, together with a formal analysis of cost-effectiveness.”
Authors of an accompanying Comment said the results were very promising: “Cost-effectiveness is likely to be a key factor as to whether such commercial programmes become part of publicly funded health care, but the low cost of these programmes (at present about £50-60 for 12 weeks) makes the case for incorporation intuitively appealing.”
The study was funded by a grant to the UK Medical Research Council from Weight Watchers International; one of the Comment authors once received hospitality from Weight Watchers.