Although following Weight Watchers appears to help people shed more pounds than they would on their own, people who followed the program for two years lost an average of only six pounds, researchers said earlier this week. However, especially diligent participants (e.g. those who attended at least 78 percent of the weekly meetings) lost an average of 11 pounds after two years of the program.
These findings suggest that people who need to lose a significant amount of weight fairly quickly for medical reasons may want to opt out of Weight Watchers and similarly structured programs, say the study researchers who are based at the New York Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
In the program, participants attend weekly meetings and receive guidelines for exercise and how to pick the healthy foods and portions.
But these findings do not suggest that Weight Watchers holds no benefit for people struggling with their weight. People enrolled in Weight Watchers shed more pounds than did people who were simply provided with information about smart eating and exercising, who lost, on average, less than one-half of one pound after two years.
Furthermore, while, on average, participants lost only small amounts of weight while enrolled in the structured program, some lost much more, with the maximum amount of weight loss reaching around 50 pounds.
For people who are not yet obese but are experiencing an increase in weight, or have a family history of problems that can be aggravated by excess weight -- such as heart disease or diabetes -- a structured program like Weight Watchers may have a significant impact on health.
While Weight Watchers and similar programs may work for some people, they clearly don't work for everyone. Programs have the best chances of working if they feel natural to the people following them, otherwise the weight loss is too difficult to maintain.
During the study, 423 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 were either given a number to call to find the nearest Weight Watchers meeting and vouchers to attend, or provided with two brief counseling sessions with a nutritionist, then left to lose weight on their own.
Weight Watchers funded the current study, and the authors hope that other weight loss programs will do the same.
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