New research suggests that private-sector weight-management companies have helped overweight people lose twice as much weight as NHS-driven services.
The study, carried out by academics at Cambridge-based MRC Human Nutrition Research and published today in the Lancet, found that overweight people lost twice as much weight following 12 months on a Weight Watchers Programme compared with counterparts receiving standard care provided by primary-care clinicians.
The findings could have a significant bearing for the future commissioning of public-health services, both by GPs and local authorities.
Around 700 people referred by their GPs for weight-management help were allocated either to a Weight Watchers programme or to health-service funded plans in research in the UK, Germany and Australia, where the results were monitored.
On average, those attending Weight Watchers lost more than twice as much weight as their health-service counterparts, and they were more than three times as likely to lose 10% or more of their initial weight.
Over all, some 61% of people referred to Weight Watchers finished the study having lost 5% or more of their body weight, contrasting with some 32% of the other group.
Susan Jebb, who led the research, said that at a time when the world was waking up to the long-term public health consequences of obesity, the study showed the potential of the commercial sector to offer solutions.
“It’s not going to be the solution for everybody, but it is something that GPs ought to feel that they can use,” she said.
She added that other providers that offered similar programmes to Weight Watchers should to be able to provide similar results.
Typically, those using health-service run weight management programmes had one-to-one sessons with clinicians, but on a less frequent basis than Weight Watchers weekly meetings.
Dr Jebb said areas for further study could include learning from the different approaches from commercial sector weight-management programmes, such as team-spirit and practical advice about low-fat foods, and regular weigh-ins.