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Channel 4's Dispatches Went Easy on Weight Watchers. Let's Have a Look at What They Could Have Said...

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On Channel 4's recent Dispatches programme 'Weight Watchers, How They Make Their Millions', presenter Jane Moore raised questions about the diet company giant, worth £5 billion, and the effectiveness of its diets. The programme highlighted that:

  • Over the last five years the NHS has spent £4 million on sending patients to Weight Watchers.
  • The majority of the clinical trials resulting in positive outcomes for the diet are funded by Weight Watchers themselves.
  • While many Weight Watchers dieters lost weight within the first three months, 'some' had put it back on again after five years (while the amount of people who regained the weight was kept vague, when Jane Moore asked a group of around 100 dieters to hold up green cards if they had kept the weight off, only about three people responded).
  • The cost of the Weight Watchers diet is around £100 per pound in weight lost (expensive when you consider that most of their customers only regain that pound before shelling out another £100 to lose it again - and again).

A truly independent study (and the most comprehensive and rigorous study) on the outcome of diets across the board (including Weight Watchers) is that the majority of people regain all the weight lost plus a few pounds more. On top of the weight gain, dieters get increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone that encourages an increase in abdominal fat) and reduced levels of leptin (a hormone that inhibits appetite) and increased levels of grehlin (a hormone that stimulates appetite).

The Dispatches programme has prompted Weight Watchers to respond, of course, insisting their research is all above board, 'transparent' and 'credible'. They say: "We work with high quality, world renowned obesity researchers who run independent studies."

Already this wording appears to me to be twisted to meet legal requirements and at the same time cleverly suggesting that it's the Weight Watchers studies being questioned in the Dispatches programme that are 'independent', which they are not.

The obesity researchers funded by Weight Watchers might indeed sometimes conduct independent studies, so Weight Watchers can legally say this, but the studies we're discussing here, the ones that have favourable outcomes for Weight Watchers, are not independent because they are funded by the company itself.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and a tiny example of the tactics used by this company to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Weight Watchers money is used to influence and manipulate on a truly massive scale and even Government health advisors on obesity receive their cash.

There is a huge amount of evidence that diets don't work and no real independent evidence that Weight Watchers is effective in the long term for any more than a very small percentage of users and let's not forget that Weight Watchers themselves admitted this last year to a Parliamentary Committee (I was there, so I won't forget!). At the House of Commons a Weight Watchers spokesperson said:

"The public have unrealistic expectations about weight loss".

Weight Watchers said to the MPs and around 100 people attending:

"People who buy the Weight Watchers diet can't expect to lose more than 5 to 10 per cent of their excess weight."

Most people who purchase the diet have weight loss goals far exceeding only a 5 to 10 per cent loss. Do Weight Watchers ever tell their customers they are being unrealistic? And, considering Weight Watchers marketing promises that dieters will look good when they've reached their target weight, does the company point out in its advertising that the small amount of weight dieters are likely to lose in the long term is not actually going to make a great deal of difference to their appearance?

There are, of course, people who do lose weight and keep it off on any diet but they are in a very small percentage and, for obvious reasons, they shout much louder than those who regained the weight. This tiny percentage of Weight Watchers successes are pushed and used alongside the excited dieters experiencing the initial temporary loss to create quite a buzz around dieting, but then after a while you never hear from most of them again. Diet success stories are always fresh, new faces.

I can tell you one thing that is going to be coming out in the next few years on programmes like Dispatches - the rise in obesity is in direct parallel to the rise of the diet industry and this is no coincidence. The diets themselves are a major contributing factor to the mass loss of control over food that we call the 'obesity epidemic'. How? See the physical reactions to dieting mentioned above (changes in levels of cortisol, leptin and grehlin that encourage weight gain) and add the psychological effects of food restriction and you get the perfect recipe for uncontrolled eating and easy fat storage. It's a case of the solution being a part of the cause.

While this is recognised as truth in truly independent scientific circles, the rest of the world isn't yet ready for it precisely because of the financial hold that big diet companies have over the Government, the health service, obesity research and the media.

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