In a review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, only a few commercial and proprietary weight loss programs resulted in sustained weight loss with mostly modest results among overweight and obese adults compared to other methods.

Kimberly Gudzune, MD, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues sought to compare weight loss, adherence, and harms of commercial or proprietary weight loss programs (ie, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Health Management Resources, Medifast, OPTIFAST, Atkins, SlimFast, and the Internet-based Biggest Loser Club, eDiets, and Lose It!) vs. control/education (no intervention, printed materials only, health education curriculum, or <3 sessions with a provider) or behavioral counseling in overweight and obese adults. Studies were selected for review if they were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of at least 12 weeks duration or prospective case series of at least 12 months’ duration (harms only).

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At 12 months, participants in the weight loss programs achieved the following:

  • Participants in the Weight Watchers group lost at least 2.6% more weight at 12 months than those in the education or control arms.
  • Atkins resulted in 0.1– 2.9% greater weight loss at 12 months than counseling.
  • The Jenny Craig group lost at least 4.9% more weight at 2 months than control/education and counseling.
  • NutriSystem participants showed at least 3.8% greater weight loss vs. control/education and counseling at three months.
  • Very-low-calorie programs (Health Management Resources, Medifast, and OPTIFAST) resulted in at least 4.0% greater short-term (4–6 months) weight loss than counseling, although one long-term study indicated no added benefit at 12 months. These programs also have a higher risk of complications such as gallstones.
  • No definite conclusions could be made about Slim-Fast and the Internet-based programs.

The authors conclude that while clinicians may consider referring overweight or obese patients to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig based on the long-term outcomes, additional research on long-term outcomes with these and the other weight loss programs analyzed in this study is needed.

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