News came out about a new research study regarding Weight Watchers and diabetes prevention. The study found that prediabetic adults who followed Weight Watchers, with a specific prediabetes component, lost more weight and had better blood glucose control than those who received counseling materials and were told to lose weight on their own. The study has received a lot of news coverage and a gain of almost 18% in stock price today has been attributed to this news.
I found this particularly interesting. At the end of 2014, my hemoglobin A1C level was 5.9 which was in the prediabetes range. Note that at that time, I had already lost almost 50 pounds (I don’t know what my A1C level was before I started losing weight). During last year, I lost a little over 13 pounds and really worked on my eating habits. At the end of 2015, my A1C level was down to a normal 5.44. And, I really do largely attribute this to my loss of weight and my better eating habits on Weight Watchers. So, I was quite interested in learning about this study (although I attended regular Weight Watchers and not one with a prediabetes component).
So, what did this study say? Unfortunately, the complete article about the study is not available for free online. The study is entitled Comparison of Commercial and Self-Initiated Weight Loss Programs in People with Prediabetes: A Randomized Control Trial and an abstract is available at the American Journal of Public Health. Because I only had access to the abstract, there are many details that I don’t know about. (I understand why a journal wouldn’t want to make everything freely available. And, I would pay a dollar or two to get a copy of a single article. But, they want $22 for 24 hour access to the article! So I must make do with the abstract).
What the Study Says
The researchers randomly assigned 225 people with prediabetes to either Weight Watchers or to Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes, which is a program the National Diabetes Education Program developed. This was during 2013 to 2014, so presumably would have been using the PointsPlus program. Those who went to Weight Watchers lost significantly more weight than the other group at 6 months and 12 months. The Weight Watchers group lost 5.5% of their weight at 6 months and maintained the loss at 12 months. The control group lost .8% at 6 months and had some regain at 12 months, for an overall loss of .2%. The abstract also indicates that the Weight Watchers group had significantly greater improvement in hemoglobin A1C and HDL cholesterol levels.
The abstract doesn’t really go into any more detail, but there is a little more in the articles I linked to above. For example, the control group (those who didn’t go to Weight Watchers), received instructions on initiating self-led weight loss and an activity program along with diabetes education materials. The Weight Watchers group lost, on average, 10.14 more pounds at 6 months and 11.68 more pounds at 12 months than did the control group. The articles also indicated that the Weight Watchers for Prediabetes program uses a CDC-approved curriculum as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program.
Weight Watchers for Prediabetes
There is information about Weight Watchers prediabetes program on the Weight Watchers site. Frankly, there is not a lot of hard information on the website. As far as I can glean from reading it and watching the video, you join Weight Watchers and follow it, but you also receive instruction about diabetes prevention. An article I read about the study, indicates that Weight Watchers prediabetes program meets for 16 sessions that can’t be attended out of order.
There is a number to call for information and a “special offer.” I am assuming that there is an additional cost for the diabetes prevention aspect of this, but no information is provided about that.
Good Things About the Study
There is a lot that is very positive about the study. First, it is a randomized study. Second, it went on for a full year. Many studies go on for a very short period of time. Also, sometimes information about differences in results between groups may be significant from a statistics point of view, but aren’t really all that significant otherwise. In this case, the difference in weight loss between the Weight Watchers group and the control group does seem quite large. The group that was on its own had basically lost nothing at 12 months For example, on average, less than half a pound for someone weighing 200 pounds. And, the abstract indicates that those who attended Weight Watchers had greater improvement in LDL and Hemoglobin A1C levels.
This really does suggest that going to Weight Watchers is more effective for losing weight and improving prediabetes and potentially preventing diabetes than occurs simply receiving materials about how to lose weight on your own.
Limitations of the Study
There are not a lot of details about the study in the abstract I read or in any of the articles that I found on it. For example, the abstract says that those who attended Weight Watchers had greater improvement in LDL and Hemoglobin A1C levels, but there are no details about how much improvement each group had. And, it appears that this study was funded by Weight Watchers. That doesn’t mean the results aren’t valid. But, it is important to take into account.
Also, when we talk about the Weight Watchers group losing an average of 5.5% of their weight, that doesn’t mean that all the participants lose 5.5%. The 5.5 % is an average. For example, imagine a group of 10 people who all weigh 200 pounds, and 2 of them lose 50 pounds each and the other 8 lose nothing. The average weight loss is 5%, but no one actually lost that amount. Two people had all the loss and 8 had nothing. Now, I am not saying that the participants were like that in this study. What I am saying is that from the abstract we don’t know how the weight loss was distributed and how that corresponded to the beneficial improvements in HDL and A1C levels. This information may (or may not) be in the actual full article.
It is also important to note what this study does not say. It is not saying that the Weight Watchers program is better than other weight loss programs. It is not saying that for diabetes prevention, the Weight Watchers prediabetes program works better than other diabetes prevention programs that have actual group lessons. Here are the components of what the CDC considers to be a lifestyle change program for prediabetes. I don’t know if Weight Watchers does better than other lifestyle change programs that meet that criteria.
What this study did find, though, was that those who attended Weight Watchers did better on the outcomes measured than those who tried to lose weight on their own. Despite the limitations, this does support the argument that the group nature of Weight Watchers and its prediabetes program may be more effective for weight loss and diabetes prevention than simply trying to lose weight on your own. And, while this doesn’t prove that Weight Watchers is more effective than other diabetes prevention programs, it certainly would support an argument that the Weight Watchers diabetes prevention program is an effective prevention program. And, for the long term health and growth of Weight Watchers as a company that is a good thing as it gives Weight Watchers another service that it can offer. And, of course, for those who are prediabetic, the Weight Watchers for Prediabetes Program may well be worth looking into.