Dieters more likely to lose weight if they are referred to a commercial program such as Weight Watchers than those who battle the bulge with primary health care providers alone, according to a new study.
In clinical trials, researchers led by Susan Jebb of the UK Medical Research Council assessed 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany, and Britain.
About half the patients received a year's standard care, while the other half were given a 12-month free membership for a Weight Watchers group near their homes.
Sixty-one percent of the participants assigned to the commercial programme completed it, while 51 percent of the "standard care" group finished their programme.
Overall, individuals in Weight Watchers lost around twice as much weight as did those in the other group, a mean loss of 5.1 kilograms versus 2.2. Among those who stuck with either programme to the end, the figures were 6.7 against. 3.3 kg respectively.
Participants randomised to Weight Watchers were also more than three times as likely to lose at least five percent of their bodyweight.
Weight Watchers offers weekly weighing and group support. It also promotes a balanced, reduced-energy diet along with increased physical activity.
Primary care providers -- sometimes nurses, sometimes doctors -- generally offer weight-loss treatment in line with national guidelines, but vary in the level of supervision.
"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," the researchers concluded.
The researchers emphasised the important role of family doctors and primary health-care providers in providing advice, and in making referrals to commercial weight-loss programmes.
"Further research is needed to examine long-term weight loss maintenance, together with a formal analysis of cost-effectiveness," they added.