Can Weight Watchers (WW) Help Address Maternal Obesity? An Audit of Weight Change in Women of Childbearing Age and Mothers-To-Be, Referred into a Commercial Slimming Programme

Matern Child Health J. 2022 May;26(5):1038-1048. doi: 10.1007/s10995-021-03204-5. Epub 2021 Nov 5.


Objectives: The scale of overweight and obesity amongst women of childbearing age or mothers to be, living in Wales, places a considerable burden on the NHS and public health. High BMI (over 30) during pregnancy increases the health risks for mother and baby. Policy advice recommends weight management services are available to help women lose weight before and whilst planning pregnancy. In parts of Wales, NHS partnerships with commercial companies provide weight management services for women considering or planning pregnancy. This study evaluates whether an established referral Weight Watchers (WW) programme, known to be effective in adults in England, can help mothers-to-be living in North Wales lose weight.

Methods: Analysis used routine data from 82 referrals to WW between June 2013 and January 2015. Participants received a referral letter inviting them to attend face-to-face group workshops combined with a digital experience. The programme encompassed healthy eating, physical activity and positive mind-set. Trained WW staff measured bodyweight before, during and at 12 weeks. On entry to the course, participants had a median age of 31.4 years (interquartile range (IQR) 28-34) with a median BMI of 36.8 kg/m2 (IQR 33.3-43.7).

Results: Women completing the course (n = 34) had a median weight loss of 5.65 kg (IQR 0.45-10.85), equating to 5.7% (SD 3.46) of initial body weight. Intention-to-treat analysis (last observation carried forward), which included lapsed courses n = 66, showed a median weight loss of 3.6 kg (IQR - 2.53 to 9.73), equating to 3.7% (SD 3.62) of initial body weight. Overall, there was significant weight loss during the WW programme (Wilcoxon signed rank test Z = - 6.16; p < 0.001). Weight loss was significantly correlated with the number of workshops attended (Spearman correlation coefficient 0.61 p < 0.001). The proportion of all 82 participants (intention to treat, baseline observation carried forward) that achieved a weight loss of ≥ 5% initial weight was 30.5%.

Conclusions for practice: Referral of obese mothers-to-be into WW can successfully achieve short-term weight loss, at or above 5%, in approximately one third of participants. The dose-response effect supports a causal inference. Successful weight loss at this critical life stage may provide women with the necessary motivation to initiate weight loss for healthy pregnancy, however further research is required.

Keywords: BMI; Intervention; Obesity; Planned pregnancy; Wales; Weight-management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Obesity, Maternal*
  • Pregnancy
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Weight Loss
  • Weight Reduction Programs*