Weight Watchers and Clinical Weight Loss Programs Not the Same

As a doctor practicing in Roanoke who has studied obesity, I’ve dedicated myself to helping people achieve healthy, effective long-term weight loss. A recent, much publicized study that purportedly compares the effectiveness of “commercial weight loss programs” to “clinical weight loss programs” is damaging to the effort to combat obesity in the US as it is both vague and misleading, which is extremely troubling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.2 percent of adults in Virginia were obese in 2011. But the report says that if obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, the rate could reach 49.7 percent in Virginia by 2030.

The study, led by a researcher at Baruch College and published in Obesity, claims that commercial weight loss programs, like Weight Watchers, are more effective in producing greater and longer-lasting results than “clinical weight loss programs administered by health professionals.”

The issue is that many people associate the terms ‘clinical’ and ‘health professional’ with physicians, but in this case, the Weight Watchers standard program was compared to a psychologist-led group-driven behavioral weight loss approach –  NOT a one-on-one physician-directed approach.

People struggling with weight who are looking for an effective long-term weight loss program should not lump physician care and the care of a clinical psychologist together to conclude that physician-led treatment of obesity is not effective. The evidence proves otherwise.

In fact, The American Journal of Medicine published a study this summer showing that people who suffer from obesity who followed a physician-led, non-surgical program safely lost an average 11.1% of their total body weight in just 12 weeks. That equates to 28 pounds on average, more than double the average weight loss of 13 pounds over a 48-week period on the Weight Watchers program. This research aligns with my experience. The Baruch study does not.

In January the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced new coverage for obesity behavioral counseling by physicians, and several private insurers followed suit. It’s worth noting that this coverage does not extend to clinical psychologists, nor does it apply to Weight Watchers.

In June, the US Preventive Services Task Force also recommended that all adults be screened for obesity by their doctors. With staggering health care costs due to obesity, policy makers and industry are now recognizing it’s time to get serious about controlling and even reversing the trends. And that seriousness means supporting physicians’ efforts to screen for and treat obesity.

Did you know that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention officially declared obesity a chronic disease in 2008? That’s right – obesity is a disease. I decided to commit myself to helping people lose weight because I know that as doctors we’re in the best position to treat this disease and the often serious health issues associated with it. Through my practice I’ve helped hundreds of people in our community achieve weight loss success.

We need to encourage more people to seek help from qualified, trained physicians with a record of success in providing effective one-on-one weight loss counseling. It’s critical that we do all we can to be clear about that. With obesity projected to affect 50% of US adults by the year 2030, it’s not an overstatement to say that our lives are depending on it.

Dr. Kenneth Luckay DO is the Medical Director at the Center for Medical Weight Loss located at 4515 Brambleton Ave in Roanoke. He can be reached at 398-1547 or Email: [email protected].

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