Adults referred to the commercial weight loss programme Weight Watchers lose around twice as much weight as people receiving standard care over 12 months, according to a Medical Research Council study.
Researchers assessed 772 overweight and obese adults from the UK, Australia and Germany.
The patients were assigned to either receive 12 months of standard care – as usually offered by a primary care team – or were given free membership to a local Weight Watchers group for a year. After 12 months, the mean weight change was -5.1 kg for those in the commercial programme versus -2∙2 kg for those receiving standard care.
Writing in The Lancet online, the authors said: “The similar weight losses achieved in Australia, Germany, and the UK implies that this commercial programme, in partnership with primary care providers, is a robust intervention that is generalisable to other economically developed countries.”
They add: “The greater weight loss in participants assigned to the commercial programme was accompanied by greater reductions in waist circumference and fat mass than in participants assigned to standard care, which would be expected to lead to a reduction in the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease… This kind of research is important so that we can identify clinically effective interventions to treat obesity.
“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,” they said.
“Further research is needed to examine long-term weight loss maintenance, together with a formal analysis of cost-effectiveness.”