A randomized controlled trial of a community-based behavioral counseling program

Am J Med. 2013 Dec;126(12):1143.e19-24. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.04.025. Epub 2013 Oct 15.


Background: The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that clinicians refer obese adults for intensive, multicomponent behavioral counseling, yet most obese Americans choose a self-help approach to lose weight. The current study examined weight loss between a community-based, intensive behavioral counseling program (Weight Watchers program) and a self-help condition.

Methods: A total of 292 participants were randomized to either a Weight Watchers condition (WW) (n = 147) or a self-help condition (n = 145). Participants in the WW condition were provided with 3 ways to access the treatment: weekly meetings; WW mobile application; and WW online tools. Weights were measured at baseline and at 3 and 6 months. Additionally, self-report use of access modes was collected at 3 and 6 months.

Results: Participants in the WW condition significantly decreased their body mass index at 6 months (F = 36.7, P <.001) and were 8.0 and 8.8 times more likely to achieve a 5% and 10% reduction in weight, respectively, compared with those in the self-help condition. In a secondary analysis, high usage of all 3 access modes resulted in the greatest weight loss (P <.001).

Conclusion: Use of the WW program yielded significantly greater weight loss than a self-help approach, suggesting it is a viable community-based provider of weight loss treatment, as recommended by the USPSTF. Further, high usage of 3 access modes was associated with greater weight loss results.

Keywords: Commercial; Community-based; Intervention; Randomized; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Counseling*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / therapy*