Which Popular Weight Loss Programs Work?

Has your primary care doctor recommended a weight-loss program? Although many primary care physicians avoid the topic of weight, according to new research, patients advised to lose weight by their physicians lose more weight on average than those who don’t receive a recommendation. Using national data from the CDC, the study found physician advice was associated with a reported 10-pound loss for women and a 12-pound loss for men over a one-year period. It is certainly a promising finding for some, but it leaves the question of how patients should go about losing weight? Should they be referred to a specialist? Often the answer is yes, especially if the patient has more than 30 pounds to lose. But what if someone is going to try to lose weight on their own, which — if any — of the many popular commercial weight-loss programs available is the best?

In hopes of helping primary care providers guide patients who want to try out a commercial weight-loss program, researchers reviewed more than 4,000 studies looking for solid evidence of their effectiveness. Finding accurate data was difficult because of the thousands of studies, only a few dozen met the scientific “gold standard” of reliability. Of these studies, the results showed that just a couple of commercial programs were “effective”. These results are scary when you think about how much time and money many of us are putting into these weight-loss programs. The findings included:

  • Of the 32 major commercial weight-loss programs marketed nationwide, only 11 had been rigorously studied in randomized controlled trials.
  • From these studies, only two programs (Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig) were supported by quality data showing that on average participants lost more weight after one year in these programs than people who were trying to lose weight without a program.
  • The results in those programs were generally “modest,” with participants losing on average between 3 and 5 percent more than the studies’ control groups of non-program participants. (While any weight loss can be beneficial, many people need to lose more than 5 percent of their weight to achieve the desired health benefits.)

Given these findings, it may be reasonable for physicians to initially refer patients to Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, especially if they are looking to lose 10 pounds or so. Some other programs may work, but need further study. However, these programs are most realistic for a patient who would consider it a success to lose 3 to 5 percent of their body weight. For patients struggling with obesity, bariatric surgeries, such as the gastric sleevegastric bypass and Lap-Band procedures, are considered the top treatment option. Bariatric surgery is also recognized as one of the most effective and most durable treatments for obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea. You can read more about the study and results of commercial weight loss programs here, or you can contact our office at 254-724-2397 if you have any questions about more substantial treatments like those we offer.

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