The latest craze that behavioral change is the key to lasting weight loss is far from new. Weight Watchers has thrived on it for the last 50 years with their focus on weekly group meetings to provide emotional support, education and and accountability. And, using their vast financial resources provided by millions of members through the years, they’ve produced 1000’s of success stories.
While at the same time producing millions of failures.
Can I prove that Weight Watchers has created far more obesity than it’s cured? No, they’ve never provided success rate statistics that show how many of their members maintain any weight loss over 2-5+ years, much less meaningful weight loss. But there’s plenty of evidence like this and this and this and this that supports the position that the long term success rate is incredibly low.
My best conservative guess for Weight Watchers long-term success rate based on years of research:
Fewer than 1 in 100. What do you think happens to the weight and health of 99 out of every 100 members that don’t succeed?
Weight Watchers and Science
Take a look at the above quote from obesity expert Dr. Martijn Katan. This was his opinion published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) based on the largest and most exhaustive controlled study on calorie restrictive diets at that time. The 2 year study, supervised by dozens of leading experts in obesity research and included 800 participant’s pre-screened for motivation and their likelihood of success. It’s stated purpose was to “establish population-wide recommendations by public health officials”.
I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers never read this study and so many others like it, because they’ve continued with their same group meeting format, and claims that their plan works for lasting results. More recently it appears Weight Watchers simply believes the NEJM study results are just plain wrong.
Dec 2014: On Monday, the company (Weight Watchers) announced …a new personal coaching service that teams customers with a Weight Watchers-certified coach who will help develop an individualized weight management plan over the phone before remaining available via phone, text and e-mail for subsequent consultations. (From Fortune)
The End Is Near?
Thanks in large part to online information available to the public and social media, more experts are finally facing reality and joining Dr. Katan in talking about the need for a new paradigm to battle against obesity. The public is finally looking in the mirror, around the shopping mall, and in their weight loss forums rather than buying the hype of a $200 million dollar marketing budget. And Weight Watchers, the plan so many were sure works, is slowly fading away:
If Weight Watchers works so well, what is the problem here? Hmmmm…. Will they be able to market their way out of their current struggles? They certainly don’t seem concerned about using science to help their chances. Here’s more on their “new offerings” so you can decide for yourself:
“Foster (Weight Watcher’s Chief Scientific Officer) says the idea behind these new offerings is that behavior change is essential to making successful long-term weight loss goals and that a personalized approach is needed to offer the best results. “This is an up-and-down journey and we’ve got to be able to support people when they need support, not when we think they need support,” Foster tells Fortune.
And be sure to consider Dr. Katan’s view from 2009 after watching two years of experts try to work their behavioral magic before you make your judgement:
NOTE: This information is in no way a recommendation to attempt a diet of any sort–it’s for information and education purposes only. Readers assume all risk with their weight loss and fitness efforts–See disclaimer below for more.
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