Healthy living * Weight loss

Weight Watchers better than NHS advice for weight loss

Weight Watchers better than advice for weight loss Greater weight reduction achieved

Overweight and obese patients on commercial weight loss programmes such as Weight Watchers lose twice as much weight as those given doctor's advice alone, according to new research.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council's (MRC) Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge followed the progress of 772 overweight and obese men and women in Australia, Germany and the UK.

The patients were either referred to their local Weight Watchers group for 12 months, or given standard advice on healthy eating and weight reduction. In the UK, this was usually provided by a nurse or healthcare assistant.

Overall, the Weight Watchers group lost an average of 11lbs 4oz (5.1kg), while those given standard advice lost an average of 4lbs 13oz (2.2kg).

However, not all the patients in the study stuck with the weight loss programme for the entire 12 month period.

Those who managed to complete the weight loss programme over 12 months lost an average of a stone in weight (6.7kg), while those trying to follow the standard advice given by their healthcare provider lost around half a stone (3.3kg).

In addition to losing twice as much weight as those in the standard advice group, the patients in the Weight Watchers group were also more than three times as likely to lose at least five per cent of their starting bodyweight, the researchers said.

They also had lower glucose, insulin and total cholesterol levels, and a greater reduction in waist circumference, used as markers of potential weight related health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

The study, led by Dr Susan Jebb, was funded by a grant to the MRC by Weight Watchers International and published in The Lancet medical journal.

The researchers said that commercial weight loss programmes, which usually include a combination of peer group support, advice on health eating, calorie reduction and exercise along with weekly weigh-ins may be a more effective and cheaper way to help people lose weight.

They wrote: "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."

However, they also added: "Further research is needed to examine long-term weight loss maintenance, together with a formal analysis of cost-effectiveness."

Dr Kate Jolly and Dr Paul Aveyard at the University of Birmingham commented: "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 makes the case for incorporation intuitively appealing."

This article was published on Thu 8 September 2011

Image © Knut Ekanger -

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