Which is better – Weight Watchers or Fitness Centers?



Weight is a major factor in battling heart disease and stroke. There’s a wide range of ways to lose weight out there, from the blatant rip-offs, to the bizarre, even to the dangerous.

But there are also methods that work and people trying to lose weight would swear on or swear at weight loss programs depending on what works and what doesn’t work for them. This study by researchers at the University of Missouri compares 2 of the most popular weight loss programs: Weight Watchers or fitness centers?

In the first study of its kind, using sophisticated methods to measure body composition, the nationally known commercial weight loss program, Weight Watchers, was compared to gym membership programs to find out which method wins in the game of good health.

The researchers used sophisticated techniques to compare the efficacy of these 2 weight loss programs in terms of losing weight, reducing body fat and gaining health benefits. The methods used were

  • the Bod Pod, which measures body composition and measure what type of weight was lost -lean weight or fat weight.
  • Computer Tomography (CT) scans, which were used to evaluate changes in abdominal fat

Well, it seems that the answer to the question “Which is better – Weight Watchers or fitness centers” is not as clear cut as many of us hoped. In fact, many factors aside from numbers are actually involved in what makes a weight loss program effective.

Minus results from the Weight Watchers side:

“Participants who attended Weight Watchers for 12 weeks lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight, or about nine pounds. However, Steve Ball, assistant professor of exercise physiology in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, found that a large percentage of the lost weight was lean tissue and not fat.”

Plus results from those who regularly went to fitness centers:

“…the fitness center group lost very little weight [but] they probably improved their health because they lost a significant amount of intraabdominal fat (fat around vital organs).”

In the end, there was no improvement in the Weight Watchers participants’ body fat percentage because of the loss of lean tissue. Lean tissue is important in our metabolism and losing lean tissue slows down our metabolism. In the case of the fitness center participants, performing regular exercise seems to have a positive influence on the metabolic syndrome. Loss of intraabdominal fat is significant because this type of fat is predictive of cardiovascular disease.

However, it’s not only what and how much was lost that counts.

On the plus side for Weight Watchers, participants in this group have better group support, resulting in higher compliance and more participants finishing the program.

On the minus side, the fitness center crowd gets less group support leading to a high rate of quitting.

According to researcher Steve Ball:

“I think the outcome of the study speaks volumes about the necessity for a multi-pronged approach in order to lose weight, body fat and gain health benefits. I hope that this will be the first in a series of studies investigating commercial weight-loss programs.”

Now, if you ask me, which method I go for to maintain my weight, my answer is “neither.” I prefer jogging in the fields and the woods and yes – I do pay attention to my diet from time to time.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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