INDIANAPOLIS — People at risk of developing diabetes have a new tool in their fight against joining the increasing numbers of Americans who struggle with this disease: Weight Watchers.
It might seem a no-brainer that the popular weight-loss program could fend off diabetes, given that it's already known that losing about 5% of one's body reduces the risk by more than one half.
But no evidence existed to prove that joining Weight Watchers (WTW) would effectively prevent diabetes whereas other interventions such as the Diabetes Prevention Program, which combines individualized coaching and personal training, do have research showing they work.
Weight Watchers wanted to know if its approach worked, too. The organization funded an Indiana University researcher to do a study of 225 people on how effective its program might be.
"This wasn't is one better than the other; we wanted to see whether Weight Watchers would get the same results," said Dr. David Marrero, J.O. Ritchey professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. "We knew it (the Diabetes Prevention Program) works. Question is would Weight Watchers?"
The answer was yes.
In an article published online Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, Marrero and colleagues report that people at risk of diabetes who participated in Weight Watchers after going to one class focused on diabetes prevention lost 5.5% of their body weight after half a year. Those in the control group lost less than 1% of their body weight in that time period.
Like the Diabetes Prevention Program, Weight Watchers uses a lifestyle change approach, which includes providing information about healthy eating, monitoring food intake and advocating for physical activity. But the program tailored toward diabetes meets in 16 consecutive sessions that can't be attended out of order.
Weight Watchers offers participants more flexibility as well as many more sites offering the program, and people also can attend meetings online. In addition, meetings only last about half an hour compared with the hour and a half sessions of the Diabetes Prevention Program.
"I would argue that Weight Watchers is more user friendly; it's designed in a way that you can jump out for a while and just jump back in, whereas the (Diabetes Prevention Program) style is much less forgiving," Marrero said.
While Marrero did not compare the Diabetes Prevention Program to Weight Watchers, he did notice that those in this study attended an average of almost 22 sessions. Previous research found that many people enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program drop out after nine to 12 sessions.
However, he added that some people may prefer attending the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program because that program offers financial assistance. With more than 86 million people estimated to have prediabetes, the more options that work to prevent diabetes, the better.
"When the day is done, these are two alternatives that are both effective," he said. "They offer the same outcome, but they have a different approach."