Weight Watchers Outdoes Primary Care in UK Randomized Trial

An 8-arm randomized trial found commercial programs far better than well-designed primary care efforts at achieving weight loss.

When it comes to helping your patients slim down, you're officially off the hook. A carefully crafted study randomized patients to one of 6 weight-loss programs, including commercial programs such as Weight Watchers or other programs designed by the UK National Health Service (NHS) and overseen by primary care doctors or pharmacists. Despite considerable resources for patient support in the clinical programs, including multilple levels of professional input, results for sustained, "clinically useful" weight loss were far superior for the commercial programs.

In fact, the weight-loss efforts designed and run by the NHS weren't effective at all, and one-to-one interventions involving primary care physicians were both costly and unhelpful.

Weight Watchers was the only program to achieve significant weight loss, compared to a control group of subjects who had no intervention other than free vouchers to a local fitness center. What's more, it was the least expensive program in the study. Fully a third of the Weight Watchers group lost 5% of their weight and kept it off for a year.

Results of the Lighten Up weight-loss study appear (in full text, for free) in the British Medical Journal. The trial included 740 overweight or obese men or women with a comorbid condition, Otherwise the group was unselected and showed significant ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

"Some evidence suggests that primary care practitioners have little faith in their ability to effect positive change in their patients' weight," observe the authors from the University of Birmingham (UK). This could indicate a "generic problem" with achieving behavioral change solely through the intervention of primary care doctors, they add.


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