A study published in The Lancet, a British peer-reviewed medical journal, found that Weight Watchers is more effective than standard weight loss care from a primary care physician. The study followed 772 people from the UK, Australia and Germany over the course of 12 months, and was funded by Weight Watchers through a grant to the UK Medical Research Council.
In this parallel group study, half the patients were referred to a free Weight Watcher’s membership or received weight loss care as defined by national guidelines. At the end of the study, those attending Weight Watchers lost an average of 15 pounds, while the others lost an average of 7 pounds. The findings, however, do not indicate that medical intervention is ineffective at helping patients lose weight, and the medically supervised patients were able to lose five percent of their starting weight and maintain the loss.
“The discrepancy in time spent between patients assigned to the two treatments suggests that those referred to Weight Watchers were able to be much more engaged and benefitted from the intense support the weekly meetings provided and made them feel more accountable for their weight loss efforts,” said Karen Miller-Kovach, the Chief Scientific Officer of Weight Watchers International in a press release. “This reinforces the importance of group support for long-term behavioral change and sustainable weight loss.”
The authors of the study believe that the findings are also applicable in the United States. “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 which is likely to be generalizable to other economically developed countries with a Western lifestyle,” writes Dr. Susan Jebb, the study’s author and head of nutrition and health of the U.K. Medical Research Council.