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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, does not include optional company 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
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 billion per year. The company has recorded very strong percentage gains in attendance (10-25%) in the United States the past several years. It has also done very well in several overseas markets such as the United Kingdom.
After 42 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. 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.
The company sponsors 46,000 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 40 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.
In the classroom business, Weight Watchers® has dominant positions in nearly every market in which it operates (with the exception of South Africa, Denmark and Poland) and the brand enjoys nearly universal recognition among its target markets - 97% in the United States and over 90% in the UK, Continental Europe and Australia/New Zealand.
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).
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.
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. Self-help dieters can now take advantage of TurnAround™ 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from any location, with Internet access.
Weight Watchers® Online includes instant access to TurnAround, 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 $65 for a pre-paid three-month subscription, and $16.95 per month thereafter.
Weight Watchers® North American attendance has been hurt the past 12-18 months by the tremendous demand for Dr. Atkins and others’ low-carbohydrate diet programs. However, just as they did not jump on the diet drugs bandwagon (Redux and phen-fen), they have stated that they are not reformulating their program to accommodate this low-carb frenzy.
In late August 2004, Weight Watchers® launched a new program called TurnAround™. This plan consists of two food plans—the Flex Plan and a new Core Plan. The Flex Plan is based on the company’s POINTS® weight loss system. The Core Plan controls calories by focusing on a core list of nutritious foods, without tracking or counting calories. This list includes foods from all the food groups.
The Core Foods List was created to provide for maximum eating satisfaction without empty calories, by focusing on foods with a low-energy density, or few calories per unit volume. “We also identified foods linked with overeating and removed them from the Core List.”, according to company management. Customers are also able to switch from one plan to the other, when circumstances dictate. The new program was tested by more than 10,000 people.
TurnAround includes two food plans, the Flex Plan and the Core Plan. The Flex Plan is based on the POINTS Weight-Loss System so users can enjoy the full range of food options and deal with any meal occasion at home, on the go, or when dining out.
The Core Plan controls calories by focusing on a core list of wholesome, nutritious foods without tracking or counting. The list includes 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. To maximize livability, on the Core Plan people can have occasional treats in controlled amounts.
To help members get a grip on portion control Weight Watchers® now provides the QuikPic booklet, a visual tool that shows what a food portion looks like by comparing it in size to familiar objects such as a tennis ball, CD, light bulb, pen, and audio cassette. Another new tool is the Weight Watchers® PointsPieÔ , with simple graphics that show three ways to get the recommended mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Weight Watchers® now offers new workout guides to trim the abdomen, arms and legs. These workouts compliment the 5-Step POINTS Activity System, which includes an option to swap Activity POINTS for additional Food POINTS.
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. Initial registration varies from $12-30 (registration plus 1st week), plus a weekly meeting fee. The registration fee is often waived via promotions. 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.
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.
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, offered mainly in company-owned markets, is said to be doing very well right now. 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.
Each January (the start of the "diet season") a new weight loss program is usually introduced by the company. Usually, these are minor modifications that are more marketing-related than real substance. 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. TurnAround, the current program, offers a choice of two food plans: the Flex Plan or the Core Plan. With the Flex Plan, members can enjoy the full range of food options and track their POINTS. With the Core Plan, members can control calories by focusing on a core list of wholesome, nutritious foods from ALL the food groups without tracking or counting.
Also, the POINTS Activity System is 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.
Research Studies – How Successful Is The Program?
The latest 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 42 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.
Try our Diet Wizard to find out which diet programs are best suited to your specific needs, and which ones will help you keep the weight off.
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