-- Margaret Steele
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Dieters may be more
likely to slim down if they are referred to a commercial program
such as Weight Watchers than if they battle the bulge with primary
health care providers alone, a new study finds.
Overweight adults in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom
who were referred to Weight Watchers by a primary health care
provider lost about twice as much weight over a year as dieters
assigned to standard weight-loss care, according to the study,
which was funded by Weight Watchers and published Sept. 8 in
"The greater weight loss in participants assigned to the commercial program was accompanied by greater reductions in waist circumference and fat mass than in participants assigned to standard care, which would be expected to lead to a reduction in the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease," the researchers said in a journal news release.
The study involved 772 overweight and obese adults who were
randomly assigned to a year of diet care overseen by a primary care
professional or to 12 months' free membership at a local Weight
Fifty-four percent of the standard-care dieters completed the
12-month study, compared to 61 percent of the Weight Watchers
Those who stuck with their standard diet lost an average of
about 7 pounds, while those who attended Weight Watchers shed
nearly 15 pounds on average. Also, the Weight Watchers participants
were more than three times as likely to have dropped 5 percent or
more of their body weight compared to the standard dieters, said
A quarter of those randomly assigned to work with a primary care
professional did lose 5 percent of their body weight, however -- a
feat the researchers said confirmed the capability of primary care
professionals to deliver the support and care needed for people to
lose weight and keep it off during a year's time.
The researchers suggested that the structure of the commercial
program -- including group support, weekly weighing, instruction
about diet and physical activity, and motivation -- can be a
clinically useful tool for battling overweight and obesity on a
large scale. However, they acknowledged that a cost-benefit
analysis and further research is needed to see if the gains (or, in
this case, losses) could be maintained over time.
The researchers also said the findings suggested that overweight
people were more likely to lose weight if they were referred to a
commercial weight-loss program by a physician or another primary
care provider than if they enrolled on their own.
"The similar weight losses achieved in Australia, Germany, and the U.K. implies that this commercial program, in partnership with primary care providers, is a robust intervention that is generalizable to other economically developed countries," the authors said in the news release.
"This kind of research is important so that we can identify clinically effective interventions to treat obesity," they added.
The study was conducted by Susan Jebb, head of Diet and
Population Health at the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition
Research unit in Cambridge, England, and colleagues.
In an accompanying journal commentary, Dr. Kate Jolly and Dr.
Paul Aveyard of the School of Health and Population Sciences at the
University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, noted that obesity
plays a leading role in about 2.8 million deaths a year.
"Cost-effectiveness is likely to be a key factor as to whether such
commercial programs become part of publicly funded health care,"
they wrote, "but the low cost of these programs . . . makes the
case for incorporation intuitively appealing."
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