Dieters lose twice as much weight when they go to Weight Watchers than they do when they get diet advice from professionals in their doctors’ offices, a new study shows.
People in three countries who followed Weight Watchers lost an average of 15 pounds in a year, while dieters who got guidance from nurses and physicians lost only seven.
“This is modest weight loss, but we have to be realistic,” says lead researcher Susan Jebb, head of diet and population health for the Medical Research Council, a government-funded research unit in Great Britain.
This amount isn’t going “to transform” how people look, but it may improve their health, possibly lowering their risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, says Jebb, whose study was published online Wednesday in The Lancet.
Researchers in England, Australia and Germany recruited 772 overweight and moderately obese people through their primary-care doctors. Participants were generally healthy, weighed an average of 191 pounds and were mostly women.
Half the participants were assigned to a doctors-care group and received one-on-one diet and exercise advice from professionals in their physicians’ offices. They went in for help about once a month.
The other half of the participants were given a free year-long membership to Weight Watchers, which provides diet and exercise advice as well as group support and motivation at weekly meetings. In England and Australia, participants attended an average of three meetings a month; in Germany participants attended two meetings a month. The findings after 12 months:
•61% of people in Weight Watchers completed the study; 54% in the standard-care group finished it.
•Of the people who completed the study, 32% of those following Weight Watchers lost 10% or more of their starting weight — roughly 19 pounds or more.
•13% of those in the doctors-care group lost 10% of their initial weight.
•Those in Weight Watchers lost for an average of about nine months, then their weight stabilized. Those who went to the doctors’ offices lost weight for about four months.
Doctors need to consider a range of effective treatments for weight loss and use their professional judgment about what is going to be beneficial for individual patients, Jebb says.
Jennifer Lovejoy, president of the Obesity Society in the USA, says this study has important implications for the treatment of obesity. “In most health care systems, physicians have limited time to spend with patients and may not even be reimbursed for the multiple visits over time required to help people lose weight.”
Participation in good commercial weight-loss programs has “definite benefits” for some people, she says.
The research was funded by a grant from Weight Watchers but designed and conducted without any input from the diet company.
Weight loss after a year
A weight loss of 5% to 10% may lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and other diseases.
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J. Kyle Mathews, MD
Plano OBGYN Associates
Plano Urogynecology Associates