Commercial weight loss programs are more effective and cheaper than primary care based services led by specially trained staff, according to a new study.

Almost a quarter of England’s population is classified as obese. Evidence has shown that commercial weight management services can be effective, but the effectiveness of obesity management in primary care is still unclear.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham compared the effectiveness of several 12-week-long commercial weight loss programs with primary care led programs and a control group.

"Our findings suggest that a 12-week group-based dedicated program of weight management can result in clinically useful amounts of weight loss that are sustained at one year," say the authors.

"Commercially provided weight management services are more effective and cheaper than primary care based services led by specially trained staff, which are ineffective," they added.

Hundreds Participate, Weight Watchers Among Programs

The study included a total of 740 obese and overweight men and women using different programs.

Among these were Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Rosemary Conley, a group-based dietetics program, general practice one to one counseling, pharmacy one to one counseling, or a choice of any of the six programs.

Follow up data was available for 658 participants at the end of each 12-week program and 522 at one year.

A control group was provided with 12 vouchers enabling free entrance to a local leisure, fitness center.

Significant Weight Loss

After 12 weeks all programs achieved significant weight loss, with the average weight loss ranging from 4.4 kg, Weight Watchers, to 1.4 kg, general practice provision. The primary care programs were no better than the control group at 12 weeks, the authors wrote.

After one year significant weight loss occurred in all groups apart from the one to one programs in general practice and pharmacy settings. However, Weight Watchers was the only program to achieve significantly greater weight loss than the control group.

However, attendance was an important factor and the highest attendance rate was in Weight Watchers and the lowest was in primary care programs, which were the most costly.

NHS 'Should' Learn from Private Sector

The authors said that England’s National Health Service should be mindful of the level of investment that is needed to develop their own expert workforce to manage complex obesity, and gain much information from commercial companies in order to know how to please the consumers' needs.