A scientist from the University of Missouri (MU) has been comparing the Weight Watchers program to gym membership to find out which method wins in the good health stakes. He's found that the answer is that both have pros and cons and that a combination of the two produces the best results.
MU's Steve Ball found that study participants who attended Weight Watchers for 12 weeks lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight, or about nine pounds. Worryingly, however, he found that a large percentage of the lost weight was lean tissue and not fat.
"Participants' body fat percentage did not improve at all because they lost a much higher percentage than expected of lean tissue," said Ball. "It is advantageous to keep lean tissue because it is correlated with higher metabolism. Losing lean tissue often slows metabolism. What your body is made of is more important than what you weigh."
Conversely, Ball found that the gym group lost very little weight, but they probably improved their health because they lost a significant amount of intraabdominal fat (fat around vital organs). These results imply that exercise may have positive influence on the metabolic syndrome despite the number on the scale.
Group support was identified as very important for the success of either method. Most of the Weight Watchers participants stuck with the program during the duration of the study, while many of the fitness center participants quit. "These results imply that overweight, sedentary women joining a fitness center with the intent of weight loss or body fat change will likely fail without support and without altering their diets," Ball said. "Nearly 50 percent of people who start an exercise program will quit within six months."
"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," Ball concluded.
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Source: University of Missouri