Weight Lost is Money Saved

Weight Watchers keeps your wallet fuller while you lose the weight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's working for Jessica Simpson. The singer, who's the new celebrity spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, has been following the program for a few months after giving birth to her first child.

And as far as costs are concerned, Weight Watchers may be worth the dime.

A new study has found that from a health funder and societal perspective, Weight Watchers is cost effective.

"Weight loss programs can save you money!"

In the study, led by Nicholas Fuller, a professor at the Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney, 772 overweight and obese adults were recruited by their doctors in Australia, the UK, and Germany and randomly divided to partake in one of two programs.

Participants were mostly female at 87 percent and at least 18 years old. They had a body mass index (BMI) between 27–35 kilograms per square meter, classifying them as heavily overweight and heavily obese.

The first group received weight-loss advice from their doctor or health professional at their local medical practice, called standard care. The second group took part in a Weight Watchers program.

Doctors and patients in the standard care group established and kept track of the number of times they met over the course of a year.

These doctors and primary-care professionals were given national guidelines for weight management and were encouraged to use them on their patients.

For the Weight Watchers group, costs were based on a monthly payment plan for 12-months that included unlimited access to meetings and online resources. The cost also included the referral visit.

To measure whether the programs were cost-effective, researchers adopted a health-care funder and societal perspective.

This kept track of the direct costs paid by the government and patients, including how much it costs to do the program and deliver information, and how much it costs patients to participate.

Participants were able to attend their program outside work hours or on weekends. In addition, children were welcome at the meetings and doctors' visits, so neither childcare nor employment costs were included in the study.

For travel expenses, it was assumed that patients would travel within 10 km to their weight loss program.

Researchers recorded the number of participant visits to both the Weight Watchers group and standard care group.

Though both treatment groups lost weight, Weight Watchers' participants lost an average of 5 kilograms versus a little more than 2 kilograms in the other group after a year.

In Australia and the UK, the cost overall was lower for Weight Watchers than the standard care group.

The cost per kilogram of weight lost was $121 AUD for Weight Watchers and $137 AUD for the standard care groups. In the UK, it cost 55 GBP and 92 GBP, or $88 and $147 respectively.

Participants in Australia's Weight Watchers group met up an average of 33 times per year with each visit costing almost $22 AUD.

Amongst the standard care group, they averaged 10 visits with each visit costing a little over $37 AUD per patient.

For the UK, costs were about 7 GBP and 12 GBP, or $11 and $19, for the Weight Watchers and standard care groups respectively.

The authors note that In Germany, obesity is not a serious condition in their health care system, so this may be why standard care is still more efficient than the commercial program.

Even though Weight Watchers participants attended two to three times more meetings than the other group, Weight Watchers was still cost effective even when taking travel costs into account.

"Weight Watchers has developed a set of specialized competencies that have enabled it to provide more effective weight loss assistance, and in the case of two of three nations examined, more cost-effective weight loss assistance," said Adam Powell, PhD, and dailyRx contributing expert.

"Staff members of commercial weight loss programs have traditionally been people whom have previously personally dealt with weight issues and may be better equipped to serve and relate to the needs of their members."

The authors say that "it is cost effective for general practitioners to refer overweight and obese patients to a [Weight Watchers], which may be better value than expending public funds on [doctor] visits to manage this problem."

"However, due to the out of pocket cost [commercial programs like Weight Watchers] may still be beyond the financial reach of a substantial proportion of the population, particularly those who need it most," the authors said in the study.

"Thus, governments could consider funding cost-effective commercial programs in preference to general practitioner visits for managing overweight and obesity."

The authors note a couple of limitations with the study, including that it was restricted to only a year and other offsets that could have affected costs were left out.

Further, they received research grants and payments for other studies and lectures. They also serve as board members for various companies that they report could be a conflict of interest to their study.

The study was published online Aug. 28 in the International Journal of Obesity

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 7, 2012
Last Updated:
September 9, 2012