Dieters Lose Weight When Their Doctors Send Them to Weight Watchers

Printed with permission from the Cooper Institute.

A new study published in the Lancet showed that overweight patients told by their doctors to go to Weight Watchers lost twice as much weight as patients who received standard weight loss care over 12 months.1 Researchers in London randomized 772 overweight or obese adults to either 12 months of standard care (weight loss advice from their practitioner based on national clinical guidelines) or 12 months of free membership to Weight Watchers (a commercial program that promotes a low-calorie, balanced diet with increased physical activity and group support). In both groups, body weight, height, fat mass, waist circumference, and blood pressure were measured at baseline and at 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months.

Results showed that at 12 months participants in the Weight Watchers group lost an average of 11 pounds and participants who were only given advice from their practitioner lost just under 5 pounds, on average. Likewise, of those who completed the 12-month assessment, 32% of the participants on weight watchers lost 10% or more of their starting weight and only 13% in the doctors-care group lost 10% of their initial weight, an amount that has been shown to improve health and lower risk of disease. Study authors concluded that referral by health care professionals to commercial programs like Weight Watchers that provide key weight loss strategies like 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.

Many practitioners admit that while they know their patients need counseling to lose weight, they just don’t have the time, incentive (reimbursement), skills, etc. to do it. Thus, referrals to programs that are proven effective, accessible, and affordable (in this case free) are a viable solution. But, building a list of such community resources takes time and effort and commercial programs are not free and not available in many areas. Maybe commercial programs like Weight Watchers should become part of publicly funded health care? Share your thoughts with us!

1Jebb, S. , Ahern, A. & Olson, A. (2011). Primary care referral to a commercial provider for weight loss treatment versus standard care: a randomized controlled trial. The Lance, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61344-5

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