September 04, 2018
2 min read

Weight Watchers provides cost-effective obesity prevention vs. standard care

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Commercial weight-management programs, such as the Weight Watchers intervention, may be cost-effective alternatives to standard care for Australian adults with overweight or obesity and should be considered more seriously as part of the national health services, according to a study published in Obesity.

Sharyn Lymer

“Using a modelling approach to estimate the potential population cost-effectiveness of referral to a community weight-management program, our study found that costs savings could be realized when patients with obesity receive a referral to a commercial weight-management program in comparison to receiving care from their primary care provider only,” Sharyn Lymer, PhD, research fellow at The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Eating Disorders at The University of Sydney in Australia, told Endocrine Today.

In order to compare population-level health outcomes, costs and cost savings of adults with overweight or obesity participating in either 1 year of general practitioner-referred Weight Watchers or standard care (consisting of general practitioner advice), researchers modeled the obesity status of Australian adults for 2015 to 2025 using a microsimulation model of the interventions (n = 300,000 in standard care; n = 338,000 in Weight Watchers; 55.94% men; 58.17% with BMI at least 30 kg/m2).

Researchers examined health outcomes by calculating how many BMI units were averted between 2015 and 2025, the number of quality-adjusted life-years gained from 2015 to 2025 and how many obesity cases were averted in 2025.

Researchers calculated cost by predicting which specific health outcomes would lead to savings in the health system between the Weight Watchers scenario, the standard care scenario and a status quo scenario (no intervention).

Univariate sensitivity testing was used to measure variations in the parameters of the model.

Researchers found that standard care prevented 58,134 cases of obesity and Weight Watchers prevented 60,445 in 2025. Between 2015 and 2025, Weight Watchers would avert 4,858 BMI units, whereas standard care would avert 4,117. In addition, between 2015 and 2025, 22,076 QALYs were gained in the Weight Watchers intervention and 17,263 were gained in standard care, according to the model.

The Weight Watchers intervention resulted in cost savings of 17,248 Australian dollars, with the standard care intervention offering cost savings of AU$17,116 vs. doing nothing. The Weight Watchers model showed an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of AU$35,195 in savings for each case of obesity prevented in 2025 and continued to be more cost-effective over standard care for a variety of scenarios in the sensitivity analysis.


“Given the increasing number of patients with obesity needing treatment, this study suggests that referral to a commercial weight-management program is another potentially cost-effective treatment opportunity for clinicians,” Lymer said. “More research is required to assess if provider referral to Weight Watchers on a larger scale, such as a community-based trial, would achieve clinically meaningful weight loss over the long term.” – by Melissa J. Webb

For more information:

Sharyn Lymer, PhD, can be reached at

Disclosures: Lymer reports she has received grants for other research from Novo Nordisk and that no authors have received funding from Weight Watchers. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.