Type of Counseling: in-person, group counseling, by group leaders/customers successful on the program that have undergone company training
Typical Cost:$250-500 (weekly and registration fees, and grocery store food purchases).
Type Program:commercial weight loss centers
Type of Foods Used:regular grocery store food, company diet foods optional
At-Home or Direct Mail Plan Available?Yes--at home internet website-based plan offered in lieu of attending meetings.
Weight Watchers International
175 Crossways Park West
Woodbury, NY 11797
To find the nearest Weight Watchers® meeting location, call 1-800-651-6000, or click on the Find a Meeting link at the top of the homepage.
Weight Watchers International was founded in May 1963 by Jean Nidetch. The company became a publicly held corporation in September 1968, and 10 years later became a wholly owned subsidiary of the H.J. Heinz Company.
The company appears to be thriving under the new owners and as a publicly owned company separate from H.J. Heinz. It continues to dominate the American commercial weight loss centers market, #1 with revenues from weekly meetings and registration fees, and some merchandise like scales, cookbooks and exercise gear, of about $1.2 billion per year. The company has recorded very strong gains in attendance in the United States after the low carb trend faded, but has struggled to maintain that growth in 2006-2007.
After 44 years, it is one of the most recognized brand names, and it is fully capitalizing on its huge database of current and past customers. Its program is affordable, flexible, and safe. Initial registration varies from $12-30/week (registration plus 1st week) plus a weekly meeting fee. The registration fee is often waived via promotions. Weight Watchers® weekly meetings range in cost from $8.95/week (for loyal customers that attend regularly) to $12/week for those who come as they please. Also offered is a Monthly Pass fee arrangement: $39.95/month (or about $9.22/week) includes access to unlimited meetings each week, free registration and free access to the e-Tools internet website.
The company sponsors 48,000 weekly meetings taught by a network of 13,000 classroom leaders and sees attendance of roughly 1 million members per week, the legacy of its 44 years in business. Weight Watchers® brand name is recognized by 97% of adult women in the U.S., and by more than 90% in its other primary markets, and the company’s database of 20 million former members makes for efficient and targeted marketing.
There is also an At-Work Program that operates on-site, where employees can attend meetings either before work, during lunch hours, or after work.
Weight Watchers® customers are loyal. Half of all first-time attendees return to enroll as a member and the probability of rejoining for another session (8-10 weeks) after the first one is completed is 75% - 80%. Historically, members enroll for an average of 4 sessions over their lifetimes, with a typical lag period of 18-24 months in between enrollment. With the average Weight Watchers® participant trying to lose 30 pounds in the UK and 50 lbs. in the United States, it usually takes the members at least 20 weeks to achieve his/her goal (assuming 1-2 lbs. per week weight loss).
When you sign-up for the Monthly Pass fee program, you pay for your meeting fees one month at a time. You get a new Monthly Pass card in the mail every month until you cancel. You show your Pass as proof of payment each time you attend a meeting. Your credit card is automatically charged each month at the monthly rate (currently $39.95/month, or $9.22/week) until you cancel, so there's no need to make a payment when you attend a meeting. Benefits of the monthly pass are that you can attend more meetings per month than under the old plan and save a little money from the normal weekly meeting fee (which average $12.00/week) in the process.
Weight Watchers® biggest competitor is "do-it-yourselfers"—dieters that buy diet books and use all the fad diets. However, the company believes that there will always be people that need a human being sharing their feelings—therefore, the group meetings.
Company Website: WeightWatchers.com
WeightWatchers.com® has a variety of free resources, including free recipes, recipe renovations, a meeting finder, BMI and healthy weight range calculators, quizzes, community message boards and safe and sensible editorial content. The Momentum™ Plan offers weekly meetings offered at locations worldwide. Meetings sites for Weight Watchers® include local company centers, YMCAs, churches, synagogues and community centers. Meetings can also be offered at one's place of business as many corporations participate through their employee wellness programs. Self-help dieters can may also take advantage of The Momentum™ Plan 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from any location by accessing the the company's Internet Weight Watchers® Online website.
Weight Watchers® Online includes instant access to The Momentum™ Plan, an online journal, a POINTS calculator, a customized Weight Tracker, hundreds of cookbook-quality recipes with POINTS values and a database of over 16,000 foods to calculate daily POINTS values. Weight Watchers® Online is available for a 7-day free trial, at the end of which you are automatically subscribed to the 3-month savings plan that costs $65 for the first 3 months, then $16.95/month thereafter. The free 7-day trial is available only to new Weight Watchers® Online subscribers in the U.S.
How The Weight Watchers® Program Works
The program has always been based on the use of regular store-bought food, supplemented with Weight Watchers® food items that are an optional purchase. The focus has always been on portion control and moderate, not rapid weight loss. No foods are "off limits", but you do account for everything and assign a point value to it, trying to stay within a certain daily point level. Exercise, on your own, is encouraged.
The program is based on the use of regular grocery store food, but if you should find it more convenient to have the meals prepared for you, one can choose from hundreds of company items founds in the supermarket (dinner entrees, breakfast foods, snacks, ice cream, salad dressings, you name it). What differentiates this program from Jenny Craig and NutriSystem, for example, is that you are not forced to buy Weight Watchers® diet foods at a set price per week. You buy whatever items you want. If you want more convenience, you can buy more already-prepared Weight Watchers® items. In other words, YOU control how much you spend on the program.
The Weight Watchers® weight loss program is basically a 5-week reducing plan, based on regular foods. The emphasis has always been on portion control. Weight loss is safe, slow and gradual (avg. 1-2 lbs./week), earning high marks from dietitians and others. If members achieve their goal weight and maintain it for 6 weeks, they become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay ongoing weekly meeting fees. Prior to the just announced 2009 Weight Watchers® plan, members had the choice of following two plans: the POINTS Plan or the Core Plan.
The program's POINTS Plan used a point system which assigns "points values" to foods. The POINTS value is calculated using the number of calories, fat grams and fiber grams for each food. Members take a short quiz which determines the total number of points they should eat each day to ensure adequate nutrition and a proper calorie level to lose weight or maintain their goal weight.
The POINTS Activity System was designed to complement the POINTS food system. Based on a proprietary formula that includes body weight, time, and intensity, all types of physical activity can be assigned a POINTS value. Weight Watchers® members are provided with a POINTS Boosterä to calculate points on their own.
If members did not wish track and calculate points, they could follow the Core Plan instead. The Core Plan did not require members to keep track of their points, instead providing food choices from the various food groups and recommending that members pay attention their body's hunger cues -- only eating when actually hungry, and then stopping when satisfied. The focus of the Core Plan was a list of wholesome, nutritious foods without tracking or counting. The Core food list included foods from all food groups - fruits and vegetables, grains and starches, lean meats, fish and poultry, eggs and dairy products - to ensure that all nutritional requirements are met. Core members were also advised to make frequent use of foods that had a higher fiber content, and therefore more filling with less calories. To maximize livability, members following the Core Plan were allowed to choose occasional treats in controlled amounts.
New For 2009 -- The Momentum™ Plan
The company recently announced their new plan for 2009, called The Momentum™ Plan. The new plan basically merges the Points Plan with the Core Plan, and adds a new twist -- Filling Foods. Members were advised to follow one plan or the other.
The new Momentum™ Plan asks all members, including those who were previously on the Core plan, to track points, eat more filling food and pay attention to the body's hunger and satiety cues -- supposedly, utilizing the best feature of the both plans. Members who find it a burden to track points are given an alternative in Week Six of the plan which includes an option for not tracking points.
Weight Watchers eTools
The online eTools provides information on over 29,000 food options. Meal ideas for foods that members actually want to eat - desert, beer and pizza cheat sheets so you can see how to eat the foods they love while staying on plan. For men following the Plan, eTools includes made-for-men workouts that target key muscle groups, exercise advice for all fitness levels, and more than 60 exercise demo videos. Also included are tips and testimonials from men who have been successful following the plan.
For new members, a one-week "Kick Start" plan is included with specific food plans, recipes and guidelines to help you learn the fundamentals of the plan. Another new tool is the Weight Watchers® Four Way Approach , a pie chart with simple graphics that show four ways to get the recommended mix of habits and skills to achieve your weight goals.
Weight Watchers® offers workout guides to trim the abdomen, arms and legs. These workouts compliment the Momentum™ Plan, and includes an option to swap Activity POINTS for additional weekly Food POINTS. Special topic sheets are provided with tips for women in menopause, diabetics, nursing mothers, and vegetarians.
For people who desire a more personal approach to weight loss, the Inner Circle service is offered, with a focus on small groups of 8-10 people that share the same weight loss concerns. Inner Circle is available in select areas of the country.
Weight loss programs are offered for men-only groups, teenagers, and employees at work. There are menus printed in Braille, and featuring pictures of suggested foods for mentally impaired adults. There is also a special program for senior citizens and one for students.
Weight Watchers® At Home
This program is offered mainly in company-owned markets, and no company food is required. If you don’t have the time to go to weekly meetings, Weight Watchers® At Home is designed for you. This is an 8-week program comprised of the following: exercise video, a calculator, Weight Watchers® food materials, a fast food companion, an eating out checklist, and coupons for W.W. food items. It even includes 26 weeks of access to their exclusive toll free At Home Support Telephone Help line. It costs $89.95 plus $4.95 shipping. To order Weight Watchers® At Home, call toll free, 1-800-710-HOME (4663). "The Weight Watchers At Home Kit contains everything one needs to help you lose weight to your goal."
Weight Watchers®never jumped on the bandwagon to modify its program to offer prescription diet medications such as Redux and phen-fen. This proved to be a very wise decision, one that averted controversy and consumer lawsuits. The plan’s main attraction for many people is that it’s an affordable, flexible plan with no mandatory food purchase or long-term contracts or large up-front fees. And, peer group support is available via weekly meetings. That, apparently, has been a winning combination since 1963.
Usually, for each January (the start of the "diet season") a new weight loss program is introduced by the company. Typically, there are minor modifications made to the existing plan that are more marketing-related than substantive. Or some features are merged or minor changes/improvements to the formula are made. The company tries to "freshen up" the program and generate some excitement and demand. In 1991, it was the Personal Choice plan. In 1994, the company launched the Weight Watchers® At Home plan. In January 1995, it was the Superstart and Fat & Fiber plan. In January 1996, it was the Start Smart plan. In fall 1997, it was the 1-2-3- Success Plan, Next came Winning Points and then TurnAround, offering a choice of two food plans: the Flex Plan (renamed the Points plan for TurnAround) or the Core Plan. With the Flex (Points) Plan, members enjoyed the full range of food options and tracked their POINTS. With the Core Plan, members controlled calories by focusing on a core list of wholesome, nutritious foods from ALL the food groups without tracking or counting. This 2009 program merged features of the Core and Points components to form the Momentum™ Plan.
Research Studies – How Successful Is The Program?
Research about diet program effectiveness was published in the Jan. 5, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Dr. Michael Dansinger, of Tufts New England Medical Center, assigned 160 dieters to either the Atkins, Weight Watchers, Zone or Dean Ornish diets. Average weight loss at one year was 4.6 lbs. for Atkins, 6.6 lbs. for Weight Watchers, 7.1 lbs. for the Zone, and 7.3 lbs. for Ornish.
Joint lifestyle recommendations of the AHA, American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Assn. endorse a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Weight Watchers most closely resembles these recommendations, according to the American Heart Assn. Obesity research expert Thomas Wadden said that Weight Watchers is the best studied program, and had the strongest studies to support effectiveness. However, don't expect to find much proof of ANY diet plan's effectiveness, industry-wide.
Just because there is no data for other diet programs doesn't mean they will not work. According to Dr. Wadden, the studies without published data (incl. Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss, Overeaters Anonymous and TOPS-Take Off Pounds Sensibly) may also work.
Earlier results of a 1997 study on long-term maintenance of weight loss in overweight individuals suggests a significantly higher rate of success among dieters who followed a national commercial weight loss program compared to prevailing research that concluded that virtually all diet attempts end in failure.
The study, entitled: Weight-loss Maintenance One to Five Years Following Successful Completion of a Commercial Weight-Loss Program, found that Weight Watchers® Lifetime Members regained only one-third (31.5%) of their weight one year after reaching their goal weight. This contrasts with a 1997 report by the National Institutes of Health, which said that typical dieters regained two-thirds of their weight after one year.
At five years, the new study found that 19.4% of Weight Watchers® Lifetime Members were within five pounds of their goal weight, 42.6% had maintained a weight loss of 5% or more, and 70.3% were still below their starting weight. This also contrasts with the same NIH report, which asserted that typical dieters regained most, or all of their weight five years after completing a weight-loss program.
In the opinion of BestDietForMe.com analysts, there is really nothing one can complain about with Weight Watchers® - either the company or the program. It is well managed and provides for safe weight loss. The company has been in the weight loss field for 44 years, as long as any company. It does an excellent job of creating awareness of its products and services, and has thousands of locations to serve dieters, in the United States and abroad. If you can’t get to a meeting, you can access it via the Internet or they’ll bring it to your workplace. The quality of its group leaders is above the industry norm, even though they may not be degreed healthcare professionals.
Weight Watchers® has "connected" and established a very good relationship with American women, and communicates with these dieters better than most other companies in the diet business. If you’ve ever been on the program, you are likely to receive company promotions, news about program changes, and coupons, year in and year out. Maybe what’s so appealing is the program’s affordable price and its flexibility. Meetings are held in many informal sites such as churches, synagogues, schools, worksites, retail storefronts, etc. Probably the hardest thing about sticking with this program, we’ve heard from dieters, is that at least initially it is difficult to adjust to portion sizes that are significantly smaller than the "super-sized" portions that Americans have been consuming for many years now. Basically, the program’s philosophy is to eat less and exercise more. Seems simple, but this is not as easy for most people as it would seem.
The information on this web site is intended for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Before starting any weight loss program, it is recommended that you consult your physician or health care professional.
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