Dr. Roberts on a Major Weight Loss Study

The publication Ann. Internal Medicine recently summarized results of commercial weight loss programs (the kind that advertise on TV and in magazines) compared to the options that doctors typically offer and are known to work poorly, such as educational pamphlets, a 3-session referral to a registered dietician, or meetings with a psychologist.

The good news is the authors found 49 studies to summarize — a generous number, so the results can be considered reliable. The bad news is the results were appalling! On average, the commercial programs did work slightly better than educational material or a referral to an RD or counselor. This is a useful finding because individual studies have been suggesting this for a while, but without a large summary study, the information was too fragmented to be of use. However, the results achieved with commercial programs were depressingly poor.

All of the commercial programs had high dropout rates, which complicated the analysis. The new summary showed that a typical Weight Watchers participant weighing 200 pounds can be expected to lose about 5 pounds more than just being handed some education material, if they stick with the program for 12 months. For Jenny Craig (which only works when you buy their food, which increases costs substantially — to say nothing of decreasing food enjoyment) that rises to about 10 pounds, and Nutrisystem (another packaged food plan) came in at about 7 pounds. The study also showed that weight regain between 6 and 12 months was common, which is not surprising because if you eat prepackaged food you do not learn how to make healthy choices. Very low-calorie programs such as OPTIFAST produced greater results for those willing to endure a liquid calorie regimen, but again, not results to set anyone’s heart aflutter in relation to effort. The main point of the paper was that commercial programs tend to be slightly more effective than the things doctors currently have in their repertoire, such as handouts or referrals, and suggests that they can now be considered as legitimate options.

iDiet was not included in this review unfortunately. Our clinical trial qualified us for inclusion, but we have only recently been able to deliver nationally (one of the other criteria), and I have written to the authors to let them know we now qualify. Since our results are at least twice as good as those reported for competitive programs, we are maintaining our status as the program that works better and are eager to get that fact well known.

ref: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446719/

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