Indiana University study: Commercial weight loss system expands diabetes prevention access

  • Feb. 18, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – A new randomized controlled study conducted by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers and published online today in the American Journal of Public Health found that adults with prediabetes who followed a nationally-available weight management program with a prediabetes-specific component, Weight Watchers, lost significantly more weight and experienced better blood glucose control than those following a self-initiated program using supplemental counseling materials.

With 86 million Americans estimated to have prediabetes, these study findings suggest that nationally available weight loss programs with a specific prediabetes module can be a powerful tool in preventing prediabetes from becoming type 2 diabetes, and have the potential to offer an immediate and important impact on public health.

“The findings suggest that Weight Watchers, a widely-available, empirically-validated weight management program, could significantly expand access to effective diabetes prevention programs,” said lead investigator Dr. David Marrero, J.O. Ritchey Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, and director of the Diabetes Translational Research Center at IU.

“The flexibility of the Weight Watchers model – with curriculum available online and at various locations, days and times throughout the week – is compelling to those who need flexibility to accommodate today’s busy lifestyle,” Dr. Marrero said.

Previous research has shown that people with prediabetes can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent if they lose 5 percent to 7 percent of their body weight through a structured lifestyle program aimed at weight loss, dietary change and an increase in physical activity. Despite this evidence, it has been difficult to scale prevention programs to address growing public health demands.

To determine whether a widely-available weight management program could achieve sufficient weight loss in those with prediabetes to reduce diabetes risk, Indiana University School of Medicine researchers evaluated the effects on weight and metabolic regulation of the Weight Watchers program plus a specific prediabetes component compared with a control group who received instruction on how to initiate a self-led weight loss and activity program using diabetes education materials, among 225 people with prediabetes at baseline, six months and 12 months.

The study found that those who participated in the prediabetes-specific Weight Watchers program lost significantly more weight than the control group at both six and 12 months. On average, Weight Watchers participants lost 5.5 percent of their body weight at six months and fully maintained that loss at 12 months, while the control group lost 0.8 percent of their body weight at six months and experienced slight regain for a loss of 0.2 percent of their body weight at 12 months. This translated, on average, to 4.6 more kilograms (10.14 pounds) lost at six months, and 5.3 more kilograms (11.68 pounds) lost at 12 months, for intervention participants than participants in the control group.

“This study demonstrates that widely-available programs, such as Weight Watchers, can be tailored for and produce weight loss in people with prediabetes consistent with that seen in the National Diabetes Prevention Program at a reasonable cost,” said Gary Foster, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers. “These data show that Weight Watchers provides an effective and accessible approach to diabetes prevention without the need to create additional infrastructure, disseminate complex treatment programs, and train new treatment providers.”

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, affecting more than 29 million Americans with costs exceeding $245 billion annually. It is troubling that an estimated 86 million Americans (37 percent of those aged 20 years and older) have prediabetes, a metabolic condition that significantly increases the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If prediabetes is not effectively managed, there will be a significant increase in the number of people who develop type 2 diabetes, as well as the associated medical, social and fiscal costs attributable to the disease.

The Weight Watchers for Prediabetes program delivers a CDC-approved curriculum as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program and provides proven tools to help people with prediabetes make achievable healthy lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with prediabetes can join the program and get access to the support of trained Weight Watchers coaches and other members, along with access to online tools and the mobile app. For more information, go to https://www.weightwatchers.com/us/dpp.

People with prediabetes can contact their employer or insurance provider to find out whether Weight Watchers is included as a covered benefit in the treatment of prediabetes.

This study was conducted at Indiana University School of Medicine and was funded by Weight Watchers International, Inc.

About Weight Watchers International, Inc.
Weight Watchers International, Inc. is the world's leading commercial provider of weight management services, operating globally through a network of Company-owned and franchise operations. Weight Watchers holds more than 36,000 meetings each week where members receive group support and learn about healthy eating patterns, behavior modification and physical activity. Weight Watchers provides innovative, digital weight management products through its websites, mobile sites and apps. Weight Watchers is the leading provider of online subscription weight management products in the world. In addition, Weight Watchers offers a wide range of products, publications and programs for those interested in weight loss and weight control.

CDC diabetes prevention infographic

CDC diabetes prevention infographic

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Eric Schoch
Jenny Zimmerman