4 January 2005

Systematic Review: An Evaluation of Major Commercial Weight Loss Programs in the United States

Publication: Annals of Internal Medicine
Volume 142, Number 1



Each year millions of Americans enroll in commercial and self-help weight loss programs. Health care providers and their obese patients know little about these programs because of the absence of systematic reviews.


To describe the components, costs, and efficacy of the major commercial and organized self-help weight loss programs in the United States that provide structured in-person or online counseling.

Data Sources:

Review of company Web sites, telephone discussion with company representatives, and search of the MEDLINE database.

Study Selection:

Randomized trials at least 12 weeks in duration that enrolled only adults and assessed interventions as they are usually provided to the public, or case series that met these criteria, stated the number of enrollees, and included a follow-up evaluation that lasted 1 year or longer.

Data Extraction:

Data were extracted on study design, attrition, weight loss, duration of follow-up, and maintenance of weight loss.

Data Synthesis:

We found studies of, Health Management Resources, Take Off Pounds Sensibly, OPTIFAST, and Weight Watchers. Of 3 randomized, controlled trials of Weight Watchers, the largest reported a loss of 3.2% of initial weight at 2 years. One randomized trial and several case series of medically supervised very-low-calorie diet programs found that patients who completed treatment lost approximately 15% to 25% of initial weight. These programs were associated with high costs, high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50% or more of lost weight in 1 to 2 years. Commercial interventions available over the Internet and organized self-help programs produced minimal weight loss.


Because many studies did not control for high attrition rates, the reported results are probably a best-case scenario.


With the exception of 1 trial of Weight Watchers, the evidence to support the use of the major commercial and self-help weight loss programs is suboptimal. Controlled trials are needed to assess the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these interventions.

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Information & Authors


Published In

cover image Annals of Internal Medicine
Annals of Internal Medicine
Volume 142Number 14 January 2005
Pages: 56 - 66


Published online: 4 January 2005
Published in issue: 4 January 2005




Adam Gilden Tsai, MD
From the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Thomas A. Wadden, PhD
From the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Acknowledgments: The authors thank Kirstin Byrne, MS, for research and editorial assistance.
Grant Support: In part by grants 2-T32-HP-010026 and K24-DK-065018 from the National Institutes of Health.
Disclosures: Consultancies and grants received: T.A. Wadden (Novartis Nutrition, manufacturer of OPTIFAST).
Corresponding Author: Thomas A. Wadden, PhD, Weight and Eating Disorders Program, University of Pennsylvania, 3535 Market Street, Suite 3029, Philadelphia, PA 19104; e-mail, [email protected].
Current Author Addresses: Drs. Tsai and Wadden: Weight and Eating Disorders Program, University of Pennsylvania, 3535 Market Street, Suite 3029, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

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Adam Gilden Tsai, Thomas A. Wadden. Systematic Review: An Evaluation of Major Commercial Weight Loss Programs in the United States. Ann Intern Med.2005;142:56-66. [Epub 4 January 2005]. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-142-1-200501040-00012

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