Free of charge weight-loss courses like Weight Watchers on the NHS was key to combating obesity, a study by a Cambridge-based group said.
Some 772 overweight people were studied by the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit as part of the analysis. The patients were either given 12 months free membership to Weight Watchers, or offered advice on health and slimming by an NHS primary care team.
After a year, those on the slimming programme had lost an average of 11lbs 4oz. The patients receiving standard NHS care lost just 4lbs 13oz.
Commercial programmes “can offer a clinically useful early intervention for weight management in overweight and obese people that can be delivered at large scale,” lead researcher Dr Susan Jebb and her co-authors told media reports.
Obesity is a serious issue in the UK. In 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women aged 16 or over) in England were classified as obese, according to NHS statistics.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a London-based GP, was quoted as saying to Sky News that she was not surprised by the research.
“What we need are sustainable weight programmes and many of these programmes, not just Weight Watchers, will help you to retrain your eating habits in the long term.” she said. “It’s not easy. It’s not a quick fix, but it works better than the quick fix.”
Commercial weight loss schemes are already offered to many NHS patients, but they usually last for just 12 weeks.
Despite the positive finding, the government has “no immediate plans to offer long-term weight loss programmes on the NHS at the moment,” adding it would look at the research.
A Department of Health spokesperson has said: “We need to understand better how to help people to lose weight, so we welcome this research.”