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Weight Watchers International Inc.

Weight Watchers International Inc.

175 Crossways Park West
Woodbury, New York 11797
U.S.A.
Telephone: (516) 390-1400
Toll Free: (800) 651-6000
Fax: (516) 390-1334
Web site: http://www.weightwatchers.com

Public Company
Incorporated: 1963
Employees: 46,000
Sales: $1.02 billion (2004)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: WTW
NAIC: 812990 All Other Personal Services

Weight Watchers International Inc., the world's leading weight loss service provider, grew from the dream of one woman into a global franchise with annual sales exceeding $1 billion. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has replaced the founder as the personality most associated with the enterprise. More than a million and a half people attend the company's weight loss classes in about 30 countries around the world. In 1999 parent firm H.J. Heinz sold the company's diet center enterprise to the European investment firm Artal Luxembourg SA. Weight Watchers, a public company since 2001, faced a downturn in enrollment during the early years of the 21st century as dieters turned to quick result weight loss solutions.

The Early Years

In 1961 Jean Nidetch was an overweight, 40-year-old homemaker living in Queens, New York. At 214 pounds and wearing a size 44 dress, Nidetch was always on a diet but never lost any weight. Thoroughly discouraged by dieting fads that did not help her, she attended a diet seminar offered by the City Board of Health in New York City. Although she lost 20 pounds following the advice provided, she soon discovered her motivation diminishing. Determined to stay on her diet and lose weight, she phoned a few overweight friends and asked them to come to her apartment. When her friends arrived, Nidetch confessed that she had an obsession with eating cookies. Her friends not only sympathized but also began to share their own obsessions about food. Soon Nidetch was arranging weekly meetings for her friends in her home. The women shared stories about food and offered each other support. Most important, they all began to lose weight.

Within a short time, Nidetch was arranging meetings for more than 40 people in her small apartment. Not long afterward, she began to arrange support group meetings at other people's homes. As more and more people attended the meetings, Nidetch realized that losing weight was not merely adhering to a diet, but encouraging people to support each other and change their eating habits. One couple, Felice and Al Lippert, invited Nidetch to speak to a group of overweight friends at their house in Baldwin Harbor. After meeting every week for four months, Al lost 40 pounds and Felice lost nearly 50. Al Lippert, a merchandise manager for a women's apparel chain, began to give Nidetch advice on how to organize and expand her activities, and soon a four-person partnership was formed among Nidetch and her husband, Marty, and Al and Felice Lippert. In May 1963, Weight Watchers was incorporated and opened for business in Queens, New York.

The company's first public meeting was held in a space located over a movie theater. Although the meeting was not advertised, more than 400 people waited in line to hear Nidetch speak. Nidetch divided the crowd into groups of 50 and spent the entire day addressing the overwhelming guilt and hopelessness that many people felt about being overweight, as well as providing advice about shedding pounds effectively. Nidetch began to hold meetings three times a day, seven days a week. When she started to show signs of fatigue, Al Lippert suggested that she pick key people who had lost weight themselves and had strong communication skills to help her expand the program. The first 100 people chosen to run meetings throughout New York City shared their personal stories and helped people gain control over their eating habits. Nidetch's extraordinary speaking skills and Al Lippert's genius for organization helped raise Weight Watchers to the level of an evangelical movement.

Dynamic Growth in the Middle to Late 1960s

From 1963 to 1967, Lippert organized training programs, expanded the number of company locations throughout the United States, and implemented a franchising system. By 1968, Weight Watchers had 102 franchises in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and Puerto Rico. It was relatively easy for a person to get a franchise for Weight Watchers programs. Lippert sold the territory for a minimal fee, then charged the franchisee a royalty rate of 10 percent on the gross income. The most important requirement was that the franchisee had graduated from the company's programs and kept off the weight that he or she had lost. Most of the franchisees were women from New York City who were willing to travel to establish a Weight Watchers franchise. This group was emotionally involved in the program and had a great deal of faith in its principles; as a result, their commitment to the franchise sometimes bordered on religious fervor.

The middle and late 1960s saw a boom for the company. In 1965 Lippert contracted various food companies in the United States to produce Weight Watchers food lines for supermarkets and grocery stores, including low-calorie frozen entrees and dry and dairy low-calorie foods. Lippert was also creative in other ways. He designed a billfold that held small packets of sugar substitutes, skim milk, and bouillon that enabled adherents of the Weight Watchers program to more easily control their diet when away from home. Lippert began to sell items for use in the Weight Watchers classroom; established a joint venture with National Lampoon to publish Weight Watchers Magazine ; and opened a summer camp for children with weight problems.

One of the company's most successful ideas, created under the direction of Felice Lippert, was the publication of a Weight Watchers cookbook. Since the inception of the company, Felice Lippert had been in charge of new recipe development, nutrition, and food research. Her first Weight Watchers cookbook catapulted to the top of the bestseller lists and sold more than 1.5 million copies. In 1968 the company made its first stock offering to the public. Although some financial analysts on Wall Street were skeptical of the offering, the general public was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The first day of trading saw Weight Watchers stock shoot up from an initial price of $11 to $30.

Changes in the 1970s

In 1973 Weight Watchers held its tenth anniversary celebration in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Host of past Republican and Democratic party presidential conventions, legendary boxing matches, and other historic national events, the Garden was filled to the rafters with admirers of the Weight Watchers program. It was a far cry from the celebration just five years earlier, held in a high school auditorium. Although celebrities in attendance included Bob Hope and Pearl Bailey, people had really come to see and hear Jean Nidetch. She spoke until 1:30 a.m., with the crowd captivated by her inspiring stories.

With the company's rapid growth, in 1973 Nidetch decided to resign from her position as president of Weight Watchers to devote herself entirely to public relations. She traveled the world granting an endless number of radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews and speaking to huge audiences about the success of Weight Watchers programs. Al Lippert continued to organize the operation, hiring Dr. Richard Stuart, an expert in behavioral psychology, to help the company create a training department and design the first guides and manuals for the Weight Watchers program. Lippert also hired Carol Morton, a Weight Watchers graduate and German teacher, to begin operations in Europe. From 1974 to 1976, Lippert, along with a growing list of professional staff members in the areas of marketing, advertising, licensing, and nutrition, began to formalize a strategy for continued growth. Weight Watchers was not only an inspirational program that helped people lose weight, but a highly successful business venture. Lippert and his staff focused on the best way to attract people to Weight Watchers meetings and to sell them food, cookbooks, magazines, camps, spas, and various other weight loss products.

By the late 1970s, however, Al Lippert had experienced two heart attacks and recognized that the phenomenal growth of Weight Watchers was much too rapid for his small management group to handle. Annual revenues had grown to approximately $50 million, and it was at this point that Lippert started searching for a larger corporate partner to help Weight Watchers achieve the next level of organization and success. H.J. Heinz Company approached Lippert about purchasing Foodways National, one of Weight Watchers' frozen food licensees. Heinz initially sought to merge Foodways with Ore-Ida, its own frozen food and controlled-portion entree producer. Heinz management, however, soon realized that it was the Weight Watchers International brand name that was valuable, not its licensee. As a result, Heinz acquired Weight Watchers and Foodways National in 1978 for approximately $100 million. Lippert remained chief executive officer and chairman of the board at Weight Watchers.

Between 1978 and 1981, management at Heinz assimilated Weight Watchers into its corporate organization. Heinz divided the company into three parts: Foodways National's frozen food business was subsumed under Ore-Ida; Camargo Foods, a condiments, dry snacks, and dairy producer, and a licensee of Weight Watchers that was also purchased by Heinz, was merged with Heinz U.S.A.; and Weight Watchers' meeting service business remained Weight Watchers International. Heinz's strategy was to incorporate the food business of Weight Watchers into its own food operations, while allowing the meeting service business to continue functioning separately.

Company Perspectives:

Weight Watchers has always believed that dieting is just one part of long-term weight management. A healthy body results from a healthy lifestylewhich means mental, emotional and physical health. Weight Watchers does not tell you what you can or can't eat. We provide information, knowledge, tools and motivation to help you make the decisions that are right for you about nutrition and exercise. We help you to make healthy eating decisions, and we encourage you to enjoy yourself by becoming more active. To provide motivation, mutual support, encouragement and instruction from our leaders, Weight Watchers organizes group Meetings around the world. Meeting members often become Meeting leaders and receptionists, sharing the story of their personal success with others.

Expansion and Diversification in the 1980s

Chuck Berger, the new president of Weight Watchers International, initiated an aggressive strategy that included an innovative program for weight loss, an improved meeting service, and a plan to buy back the company's franchise territories. In 1983 Berger became CEO of Weight Watchers International and, along with Andrew Barrett and Dr. Les Parducci, laid the foundation for a brand new weight loss diet. Dubbed "Quick Start," the diet aimed to quicken the rate of weight loss during the first two weeks. Launched with a well-conceived media blitz, the new program helped to double the company's revenues within two years. Barrett, as executive vice-president, improved marketing, added new food product lines, and concentrated on the lifestyle needs of people with weight control problems. One of his most successful ideas was the "At Work Program," which organized meetings for professional women at their place of work.

Between 1982 and 1989, Weight Watchers International experienced unprecedented growth in product sales. In 1982 the Weight Watchers brand name food items switched from aluminum-tray to fiberboard packaging and introduced one of the world's first lines of microwaveable frozen food entrees. Foodways National also introduced low-calorie dessert products, and by 1988 the company's desserts had a larger market share than Sara Lee and Lean Cuisine. In 1982 Weight Watchers Magazine had a circulation of approximately 700,000 readers; by 1986, circulation had increased to more than one million. The magazine had changed its focus and was marketed to women committed to "self-improvement." Collaborating with Time-Life's books division, Weight Watchers International developed a series of highly successful fitness tapes for the video market and started additional projects for books, audiotapes, and videos in the areas of exercise, weight loss, and health awareness.

By 1988, each of the three separate business units of Weight Watchers was recording skyrocketing revenues. When combined, sales for the Weight Watchers businesses amounted to more than $1.2 billion. Even as these figures were released, however, the weight control business was changing dramatically. In 1989 and 1990, numerous competitors including Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Healthy Choice, and Nutri/System began to challenge Weight Watchers for a share of the market. During 1990 and 1991, after nearly seven years of increasing market share, the company suddenly stopped growing. Sales of Weight Watchers brand food products declined precipitously, and even the renowned support group meetings began to fall in attendance.

In 1991 Brian Ruder, a vice-president in marketing at Heinz, was hired as the president of a newly reconstituted Weight Watchers Food Company. Ruder immediately embarked on a comprehensive reorganization strategy, implementing new sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, and research and development procedures. Within 15 months of the new company's formation, Ruder had redesigned almost half of its products. New product development time amounted to a mere 14 weeks, down from the 22-month cycle previously adhered to. One product line, low-fat, low-calorie entrees called "Smart Ones," was an immediate success. During the same time, Dr. Les Parducci was appointed by Heinz management as the head of Weight Watchers International. Parducci revamped the company's strategy for meeting services by simplifying the contents of programs, relocating meetings to more attractive surroundings, introducing more fun and interesting materials for members, and developing an entire new line of convenience food products.

Trouble in the Mid-1990s

Although these changes helped Weight Watchers stem defections to its rivals and revive its food sale business, the entire weight loss industry suffered a downturn in the mid-1990s. Many consumers had tired of feeling a perpetual need to count calories and of the perceived regimentation of diet classes. Spurred on by fitness gurus such as Susan Powter, whose rallying cry "Stop the Insanity" summed up many people's frustrations with the diet business, consumers began to look to health clubs and nutritional guides as a path to losing unwanted pounds. As an industry analyst explained to Business Week, "The whole industry has been under pressure. There has been a shift from dieting to general health concerns such as fat intake and general lifestyle." Moreover, a new generation of diet drugs was coming on the market, offering the hope that weight loss would become as simple as popping a pill. Weight Watchers also received some adverse publicity in 1993, when the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against it, alleging that it had engaged in misleading advertising. (The suit was eventually settled with no admission of wrongdoing in 1997.) As a result of these events, attendance at Weight Watchers classes dropped 20 percent in 1994 alone.

The company responded quickly to these events. In 1995 Weight Watchers International began to craft what Business Week described as a "health-first, vanity-second message." This approach stressed the health values of losing weight through Weight Watchers classes over the cosmetic effects of "looking better." To buttress this message, Weight Watchers negotiated agreements with insurance companies to give premium rebates on life insurance policies to Weight Watcher members. The company also made a more concerted effort to reach out to men, who had long been neglected by the diet industry (understandably so, however, as 95 percent of customers were female), holding maleonly classes in some of its centers.

Key Dates:

1963:
Weight Watchers is founded.
1965:
Weight Watchers food line debuts.
1978:
H.J. Heinz Company buys Weight Watchers and divides company into three divisions, including Weight Watchers International.
1997:
"1,2,3 Success" program is introduced.
1999:
Heinz sells Weight Watchers International to Artal Luxembourg.
2001:
Weight Watchers goes public once again.
2004:
The Core Plan is introduced in response to competition of popular carbohydrate-restrictive diets.
2005:
Company acquires stake in WeightWatchers.com from Artal Luxembourg.

In an effort to streamline the company's operations further, Heinz sold Weight Watchers Magazine (whose circulation had dropped significantly from its mid-1980s peak of more than a million readers) to Southern Progress Corp., a subsidiary of Time Inc., in 1996. Although these changes were unable to return Weight Watchers to its former, robust growth levels, they did allow the company to remain profitable throughout the middle of the decade.

By 1997, the diet industry's fortunes were improving. The new class of diet drugs had not only failed to become the panacea for which many consumers had hoped, but were in fact linked to significant health problems. In addition, consumers had found that losing weight through exercise or fad diets had proved no simpler or more successful than the formula offered by Weight Watchers and its competitors. However, Weight Watchers had changed with the times as well. Recognizing that consumers still wanted to have more flexibility in the food they ate, the company unveiled its "1,2,3 Success" program. This innovative plan assigned point values to all foods, allowing dieters to eat whatever they chose, so long as they did not exceed the prescribed number of points. The company also hired the former Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, to be its spokesperson for the campaign. "1,2,3 Success" proved a tremendous boon to the company, driving up attendance at its classes worldwide by nearly 50 percent and boosting profits substantially.

Despite this revitalization, Heinzin the course of a sweeping corporate reorganizationsold Weight Watchers International to the European investment firm Artal Luxembourg for $735 million in July 1999. Artal was a private investment group, which had as its sole investment advisor The Invus Group, Ltd. of New York. In an odd sort of synergy, Artal had also invested heavily in Keebler cookies and Sunshine biscuits. Discussing the sale in a press release, Heinz CEO William R. Johnson remarked, "Weight Watchers is the gold standard in the global weight control business, but its services orientation does not fit with Heinz's long-term food growth strategy, and this sale enables us to focus on Weight Watchers foods and our other global food businesses." Heinz retained the rights to the Weight Watchers name for use on its food and beverage products through 2004.

Dieting Trends Trimming Weight Watchers: 200005

In January 2001, Weight Watchers purchased its largest franchisee, Weighco. (Additional franchisee purchases continued into 2003.) The company went public in November 2001, at $24 per share. The stock added 23 percent in value on its first trading day and continued to post a strong performance through early 2002. Artal Luxembourg remained majority shareholder with almost 80 percent of the stock.

Weight Watchers' good fortune was dependent on dieters showing up for their meetings. Dues brought in about 70 percent of revenue. The sale of books, scales, and nutrition bars to meeting attendees brought in additional income. The U.S. operations generated 51 percent of the total and nearly 23 percent came from Britain, according to The New York Times. The rest was generated by company-owned operations elsewhere in Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. The company also received royalty fees from franchisees.

Weight Watchers moved to lure more to their meetings with a redesigned magazine, introduced with the January/February 2003 issue and coinciding with the onslaught of post-holiday weight loss resolutions. The company had reacquired the license to publish the magazine from Time Inc. in 2000. Since that time, circulation had nearly tripled to one million. Ad circulation, despite the tough economy, rose 42 percent in 2002. The magazine had performed poorly under Time.

"Weight Watchers has an amazing story," Dan Capell, publisher of Capell's Circulation Report, told Crain's New York Business in January 2003. "Newsstand sales have gone through the roof, and subscriptions are strong, too." But new diet trends had already begun to show signs of eating away at Weight Watchers' main source of revenue during 2002.

Competition generated by the Atkins and South Beach diets prompted Weight Watchers' first major change in its diet plan since 1997. The Core Plan, introduced in August 2004, eliminated point counting and portion size restrictions. The traditional plan continued to be an option for Weight Watchers members.

Weight Watchers stock lagged behind the overall U.S. market during 2004, even as other companies' stock rose with the economic recovery. But Standard & Poor's Equity Research Services' Hoard Choe, writing in Business Week Online, saw positive signs for the company's future, including the growing problem of obesity among Americans and increased disenchantment with low-carb diets.

To expand its line of branded food products, Weight Watchers entered into agreements with a number of food manufacturers in early 2005, including George Weston Bakeries, Organic Milling, Whitman's, and Well's Dairy. In mid-2005, the company acquired a 53 percent stake in WeightWatchers.com from Artal Luxembourg. WeightWatchers.com, founded in September 1999, offered a free site with information on weight loss, healthy lifestyle, and meeting locations. Subscription options targeted people unable to attend meetings and people interested in various tools as a supplement to the meeting.

Weight Watchers two-year North American enrollment erosion was brought to a halt. The new plan and a push for office place meetingstapping into employer concerns about skyrocketing healthcare costshad helped reinvigorate the brand. The Internet site was also gaining in popularity.

As of mid-August 2005, the company's stock had increased by 27 percent, and competitors were struggling. "The waning of the low-carb phenomenon was punctuated this month when privately held Atkins Nutritionals Inc., founded in 1989 by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection," Leon Lazaroff reported for the Chicago Tribune in August 2005.

Principal Subsidiaries

Weight Watchers Direct, Inc.; Weight Watchers (Accessories & Publications) Ltd.; Weight Watchers (Exercise) Ltd.; Weight Watchers (Food Products) Ltd.; Weight Watchers Funding Inc.; Weight Watchers Camps, Inc.

Principal Competitors

eDiets.com; Jenny Craig, Inc.; NutriSystem, Inc.

Further Reading

Alexander, Keith L., "A Health Kick at Weight Watchers," Business Week, January 16, 1995.

Block, Valerie, "Weighty Issues," Crain's New York Business," January 6, 2003, p. 3.

Choe, Howard, "Weight Watchers' Attractive Figures," Business Week Online, November 30, 2004.

Dienstag, Eleanor Foa, "The Weight Watchers Story," in Good Company: 125 Years at the Heinz Table, New York: Warner Books, 1994.

Fannin, Rebecca A., "Corporate Close Up: Slimmer Pickings in U.S. Prompt Weight Watchers to Look Abroad," Advertising Age International, February 17, 1997.

Freeman, Sholnn, "European Firm Buys Division of H.J. Heinz Co.," New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 23, 1999.

Fridman, Sherman, "Weight Watchers to Shed Y2K Fat or Maybe Not," Newsbytes, November 22, 1999.

"H.J. Heinz Co. Sells Weight Watchers Weight Control Business to Artal," Market News Publishing, July 22, 1999.

The History of Weight Watchers, Jericho, N.Y.: Weight Watchers International Inc., 1995.

Lazaroff, Leon, "Fad-Diet Failures Add Heft to Value of Weight Watchers," Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2005, p. 5.

Leder, Michelle, "Real Belt-Tightening As Part of a Portfolio," The New York Times, January 20, 2002, p. BU9.

Pollack, Judann, "Fed Up with Promoting Diets, Weight-Loss Rivals Branch Out," Advertising Age, March 29, 1999.

Sabatini, Patricia, "Slimming Down Heinz Plans to Shut 20 Plants, Sell Weight Watchers Classes," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 18, 1999.

Schroeder, Michael, "The Diet Business Is Getting a Lot Skinnier," Business Week, June 24, 1991.

Spangler, Todd, "Heinz to Slim Down: Its Weight Watchers Classrooms Are Being Sold," York Daily Record, July 23, 1999.

"Weight Watchers: A Little Debt-Heavy?," Business Week, December 10, 2001, p. 100.

Thomas Derdak

updates: Rebecca Stanfel;

Kathleen Peippo

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Weight Watchers International Inc.

Weight Watchers International Inc.

175 Crossways Park West
Woodbury, New York 11797
Ü.S.A.
Telephone: (516) 390-1400
Toll Free: (800)333-5756
Fax: (516) 390-1302
Web site: http://www.weightwatchers.com

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Anal Luxembourg SA
Incorporated:
1963
Employees: 4,500
Sales: $400 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 812191 Diet and Weight Reducing Centers

Weight Watchers International Inc. is the largest and most successful weight loss program in the world. The company has grown from the dream of one woman into a worldwide franchise with annual revenues of more than $400 million. Weight Watchers International has captured more than 40 percent of the weight-control market; more than a million people attend the companys weight loss classes in 30 countries around the world. In 1999 parent firm H.J. Heinz sold the companys diet center enterprise to the European investment firm Artal Luxembourg SA for $735 million. Heinz retained ownership of the Weight Watchers line of frozen foods, desserts, and breakfast products.

The Early Years

In 1961 Jean Nidetch was an overweight, 40-year-old home-maker living in Queens, New York. At 214 pounds and wearing a size 44 dress, Nidetch was always on a diet but never lost any weight. Thoroughly discouraged by dieting fads that did not help her, she attended a diet seminar offered by the City Board of Health in New York City. Although she lost 20 pounds following the advice provided, she soon discovered her motivation diminishing. Determined to stay on her diet and lose weight, she phoned a few overweight friends and asked them to come to her apartment. When her friends arrived, Nidetch confessed that she had an obsession with eating cookies. Her friends not only sympathized but also began to share their own obsessions about food. Soon Nidetch was arranging weekly meetings for her friends in her home. The women shared stories about food and offered each other support. Most important, they all began to lose weight.

Within a short time, Nidetch was arranging meetings for more than 40 people in her small apartment. Not long afterward, she began to arrange support group meetings at other peoples homes. As more and more people attended the meetings, Nidetch realized that losing weight was not merely adhering to a diet, but encouraging people to support each other and change their eating habits. One couple, Felice and Al Lippert, invited Nidetch to speak to a group of overweight friends at their house in Baldwin Harbor. After meeting every week for four months, Al lost 40 pounds and Felice lost nearly 50. Al Lippert, a merchandise manager for a womens apparel chain, began to give Nidetch advice on how to organize and expand her activities, and soon a four-person partnership was formed among Nidetch and her husband, Marty, and Al and Felice Lippert. In May 1963, Weight Watchers was incorporated and opened for business in Queens, New York.

The companys first public meeting was held in a space located over a movie theater. Although the meeting was not advertised, more than 400 people waited in line to hear Nidetch speak. Nidetch divided the crowd into groups of 50 and spent the entire day addressing the overwhelming guilt and hopelessness that many people felt about being overweight, as well as providing advice about shedding pounds effectively. Nidetch began to hold meetings three times a day, seven days a week. When she started to show signs of fatigue, Al Lippert suggested that she pick key people who had lost weight themselves and had strong communication skills to help her expand the program. The first 100 people chosen to run meetings throughout New York City shared their personal stories and helped people gain control over their eating habits. Nidetchs extraordinary speaking skills and Al Lipperts genius for organization helped raise Weight Watchers to the level of an evangelical movement.

Dynamic Growth in the Middle to Late 1960s

From 1963 to 1967, Lippert organized training programs, expanded the number of company locations throughout the United States, and implemented a franchising system. By 1968, Weight Watchers had 102 franchises in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and Puerto Rico. It was relatively easy for a person to get a franchise for Weight Watchers programs. Lippert sold the territory for a minimal fee, then charged the franchisee a royalty rate of ten percent on the gross income. The most important requirement was that the franchisee had graduated from the companys programs and kept off the weight that he or she had lost. Most of the franchisees were women from New York City who were willing to travel to establish a Weight Watchers franchise. This group was emotionally involved in the program and had a great deal of faith in its principles; as a result, their commitment to the franchise sometimes bordered on religious fervor.

The middle and late 1960s saw a boom for the company. In 1965 Lippert contracted various food companies in the United States to produce Weight Watchers food lines for supermarkets and grocery stores, including low-calorie frozen entrees and dry and dairy low-calorie foods. Lippert was also creative in other ways. He designed a billfold that held small packets of sugar substitutes, skimmed milk, and bouillon that enabled adherents of the Weight Watchers program to more easily control their diet when away from home. Lippert began to sell items for use in the Weight Watchers classroom, such as postal scales to weigh food; established a joint venture with National Lampoon to publish Weight Watchers Magazine, and opened a summer camp for children with weight problems.

One of the companys most successful ideas, created under the direction of Felice Lippert, was the publication of a Weight Watchers cookbook. Since the inception of the company, Felice Lippert had been in charge of new recipe development, nutrition, and food research. Her first Weight Watchers cookbook catapulted to the top of the bestseller lists and sold more than 1.5 million copies. In 1968 the company made its first stock offering to the public. Although some financial analysts on Wall Street were skeptical of the offering, the general public was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The first day of trading saw Weight Watchers stock shoot up from an initial price of $11 to $30.

Changes in the 1970s

In 1973 Weight Watchers held its 15th anniversary celebration in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Host of past Republican and Democratic party presidential conventions, legendary boxing matches, and other historic national events, the Garden was filled to the rafters with admirers of the Weight Watchers program. It was a far cry from the tenth anniversary celebration held just five years earlier, which was held in a high school auditorium. Although celebrities in attendance included Bob Hope and Pearl Bailey, people had really come to see Jean Nidetch. She spoke until 1:30 a.m., with the crowd captivated by her inspiring stories.

With the companys rapid growth, in 1973 Nidetch decided to resign from her position as president of Weight Watchers to devote herself entirely to public relations. She traveled the world granting an endless number of radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews and speaking to huge audiences about the success of Weight Watchers programs. Al Lippert continued to organize the operation, hiring Dr. Richard Stuart, an expert in behavioral psychology, to help the company create a training department and design the first guides and manuals for the Weight Watchers program. Lippert also hired Carol Morton, a Weight Watchers graduate and German teacher, to begin operations in Europe. From 1974 to 1976, Lippert, along with a growing list of professional staff members in the areas of marketing, advertising, licensing, and nutrition, began to formalize a strategy for continued growth. Weight Watchers was not only an inspirational program that helped people lose weight, but a highly successful business venture. Lippert and his staff focused on the best way to attract people to Weight Watchers meetings and to sell them food, cookbooks, magazines, camps, spas, and various other weight loss products.

By the late 1970s, however, Al Lippert had experienced two heart attacks and recognized that the phenomenal growth of Weight Watchers was much too rapid for his small management group to handle. Annual revenues had grown to approximately $50 million, and it was at this point that Lippert started searching for a larger corporate partner to help Weight Watchers achieve the next level of organization and success. H.J. Heinz Company approached Lippert about purchasing Foodways National, one of Weight Watchers frozen food licensees. Heinz initially sought to merge Foodways with Ore-Ida, its own frozen food and controlled-portion entree producer. Heinz management, however, soon realized that it was the Weight Watchers International brand name that was valuable, not its licensee. As a result, Heinz acquired Weight Watchers and Foodways National in 1978 for approximately $100 million. Lippert remained chief executive officer and chairman of the board at Weight Watchers.

Between 1978 and 1981, management at Heinz assimilated Weight Watchers into its corporate organization. Heinz divided the company into three parts: Foodways Nationals frozen food business was subsumed under Ore-Ida; Camargo Foods, a condiments, dry snacks, and dairy producer, and a licensee of Weight Watchers that was also purchased by Heinz, was merged with Heinz U.S.A.; and Weight Watchers meeting service business remained Weight Watchers International. Heinzs strategy was to incorporate the food business of Weight Watchers into its own food operations, while allowing the meeting service business to continue functioning separately.

Company Perspectives:

Weight Watchers has always believed that dieting in itself is not the be-all end-all of long-term weight management. The Weight Watchers program is lifestyle oriented: teaching you how to eat healthily and enjoy yourself by being more active. Group meetings play an important role in motivating members to keep on target without having to sacrifice lifes simple pleasures. After all, staying connected means staying inspired.

Expansion and Diversification in the 1980s

Chuck Berger, the new president of Weight Watchers International, initiated an aggressive strategy that included an innovative program for weight loss, an improved meeting service, and a plan to buy back the companys franchise territories. In 1983 Berger became CEO of Weight Watchers International and, along with Andrew Barrett and Dr. Les Parducci, laid the foundation for a brand new weight loss diet. Dubbed Quick Start, the diet aimed to quicken the rate of weight loss during the first two weeks. Launched with a well-conceived media blitz, the new program helped to double the companys revenues within two years. Barrett, as executive vice-president, improved marketing, added new food product lines, and concentrated on the lifestyle needs of people with weight control problems. One of his most successful ideas was the At Work Program, which organized meetings for professional women at their place of work.

Between 1982 and 1989, Weight Watchers International experienced unprecedented growth in product sales. In 1982 the Weight Watchers brand name food items switched from aluminum-tray to fiberboard packaging and introduced one of the worlds first lines of microwaveable frozen food entrees. Food-ways National also introduced low-calorie dessert products, and by 1988 the companys desserts had a larger market share than Sara Lee and Lean Cuisine. In 1982 Weight Watchers Magazine had a circulation of approximately 700,000 readers; by 1986, circulation had increased to more than one million. The magazine had changed its focus and was marketed to women committed to self-improvement. Collaborating with Time-Lifes books division, Weight Watchers International developed a series of highly successful fitness tapes for the video market and started additional projects for books, audiotapes, and videos in the areas of exercise, weight loss, and health awareness.

By 1988, each of the three separate business units of Weight Watchers was recording skyrocketing revenues. When combined, sales for the Weight Watchers businesses amounted to more than $1.2 billion. Even as these figures were released, however, the weight control business was changing dramatically. In 1989 and 1990, numerous competitors like Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Healthy Choice, and Nutri/System began to challenge Weight Watchers for a share of the market. During 1990 and 1991, after nearly seven years of increasing market share, the company suddenly stopped growing. Sales of Weight Watchers brand food products declined precipitously, and even the renowned support group meetings began to fall in attendance.

In 1991 Brian Ruder, a vice-president in marketing at Heinz, was hired as the president of a newly reconstituted Weight Watchers Food Company. Ruder immediately embarked on a comprehensive reorganization strategy, implementing new sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, and research and development procedures. Within 15 months of the new companys formation, Ruder had redesigned almost half of its products. New product development time amounted to a mere 14 weeks, down from the 22-month cycle previously adhered to. One product line, low-fat, low-calorie entrees called Smart Ones, was an immediate success. During the same time, Dr. Les Parducci was appointed by Heinz management as the head of Weight Watchers International. Parducci revamped the companys strategy for meeting services by simplifying the contents of programs, relocating meetings to more attractive surroundings, introducing more fun and interesting materials for members, and developing an entire new line of convenience food products.

Trouble in the Mid-1990s

Although these changes helped Weight Watchers stem defections to its rivals and revive its food sale business, the entire weight loss industry suffered a downturn in the mid-1990s. Many consumers had tired of feeling a perpetual need to count calories and of the perceived regimentation of diet classes. Spurred on by fitness gurus such as Susan Powter, whose rallying cry Stop the Insanity summed up many peoples frustrations with the diet business, consumers began to look to health clubs and nutritional guides as a path to losing unwanted pounds. As an industry analyst explained to Business Week, The whole industry has been under pressure. There has been a shift from dieting to general health concerns such as fat intake and general lifestyle. Moreover, a new generation of diet drugs was coming on the market, offering the hope that weight loss would become as simple as popping a pill. Weight Watchers also received some adverse publicity in 1993, when the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against it, alleging that it had engaged in misleading advertising. (The suit was eventually settled with no admission of wrongdoing in 1997.) As a result of these events, attendance at Weight Watchers classes dropped 20 percent in 1994 alone.

The company responded quickly to these events. In 1995 Weight Watchers International began to craft what Business Week described as a health-first, vanity-second message. This approach stressed the health values of losing weight through Weight Watchers classes over the cosmetic effects of looking better. To buttress this message, Weight Watchers negotiated agreements with insurance companies to give premium rebates on life insurance policies to Weight Watcher members. The company also made a more concerted effort to reach out to men, who had long been neglected by the diet industry (understandably so, however, as 95 percent of customers were female), holding male-only classes in some of its centers.

Key Dates:

1963:
Weight Watchers is founded.
1965:
Weight Watchers food line debuts.
1978:
H.J. Heinz Company buys Weight Watchers and divides company into three divisions, including Weight Watchers International.
1997:
1,2,3 Success program introduced.
1999:
Heinz sells Weight Watchers International to Altal Luxembourg.

In an effort to streamline the companys operations further, Heinz sold Weight Watchers Magazine (whose circulation had dropped significantly from its mid-1980s peak of more than a million readers) to Southern Progress Corp., a subsidiary of Time Inc., in 1996. Although these changes were unable to return Weight Watchers to its former, robust growth levels, they did allow the company to remain profitable throughout the middle of the decade.

By 1997, the diet industrys fortunes were improving. The new class of diet drugs had not only failed to become the panacea for which many consumers had hoped, but were in fact linked to significant health problems. In addition, consumers had found that losing weight through exercise or fad diets had proved no simpler or more successful than the formula offered by Weight Watchers and its competitors. However, Weight Watchers had changed with the times as well. Recognizing that consumers still wanted to have more flexibility in the food they ate, the company unveiled its 1,2,3 Success program. This innovative plan assigned point values to all foods, allowing dieters to eat whatever they chose, so long as they did not exceed the prescribed number of points. The company also hired the former Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, to be its spokesperson for the campaign. 1,2,3 Success proved a tremendous boon to the company, driving up attendance at its classes worldwide by nearly 50 percent and boosting profits substantially.

Despite this revitalization, Heinzin the course of a sweeping corporate reorganizationsold Weight Watchers International to the European investment firm Artal Luxembourg for $735 million in July 1999. Artal was a private investment group, which had as its sole investment advisor The Invus Group, Ltd. of New York; in an odd sort of synergy, Artal had also invested heavily in Keebler cookies and Sunshine biscuits. Discussing the sale in a press release, Heinz CEO William R. Johnson remarked, Weight Watchers is the gold standard in the global weight control business, but its services orientation does not fit with Heinzs long-term food growth strategy, and this sale enables us to focus on Weight Watchers foods and our other global food businesses. Later in the year, Weight Watchers International repurchased its Weight Watchers magazine business from Southern Progress Corp., and Artal remained confident that its marketing experience could further strengthen the Weight Watchers brand. As a result, Weight Watchers International seemed well positioned to enter the 21st century.

Principal Competitors

Jenny Craig, Inc.; Slim-Fast Food Company.

Further Reading

Alexander, Keith L., A Health Kick at Weight Watchers, Business Week, January 16, 1995.

Dienstag, Eleanor Foa, The Weight Watchers Story, in Good Company: 125 Years at the Heinz Table, Warner Books, 1994.

Fannin, Rebecca A., Corporate Close Up: Slimmer Pickings in U.S. Prompt Weight Watchers To Look Abroad, Advertising Age International, February 17, 1997.

Freeman, Sholnn, European Firm Buys Division of H.J. Heinz Co., New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 23, 1999.

Fridman, Sherman, Weight Watchers to Shed Y2K Fat Or Maybe Not, Newsbytes, November 22, 1999.

The History of Weight Watchers, Jericho, N.Y.: Weight Watchers International Inc., 1995.

H.J. Heinz Co. Sells Weight Watchers Weight Control Business to Artal, Market News Publishing, July 22, 1999.

Pollack, Judann, Fed Up with Promoting Diets, Weight-Loss Rivals Branch Out, Advertising Age, March 29, 1999.

Sabatini, Patricia, Slimming Down Heinz Plans to Shut 20 Plants, Sell Weight Watchers Classes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 18, 1999.

Schroeder, Michael, The Diet Business Is Getting a Lot Skinnier, Business Week, June 24, 1991.

Spangler, Todd, Heinz to Slim Down: Its Weight Watchers Classrooms Are Being Sold, York Daily Record, July 23, 1999.

Thomas Derdak

updated by Rebecca Stanfel

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Weight Watchers International Inc.

Weight Watchers International Inc.

500 N. Broadway
Jericho, New York 11753
U.S.A.
(516) 9390400
Fax: (516) 9490699

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of H.J. Heinz Co.
Incorporated: 1963
Employees: 7,500
Operating Revenues: $1.6 billion
SICs: 7299 Miscellaneous Personal Services

Weight Watchers International is the largest and most successful weightloss program in the world. The company has grown from the dream of one woman into a worldwide franchise that has captured more than 40 percent of the weightcontrol market, with over one million members in 24 countries; more than a half million people attend 15,000 weekly seminars in the United States alone. With a complete line of portioncontrol breakfasts, snacks, entrees, and desserts, numerous cookbooks, exercise videos, and a national magazine, all in addition to carefully organized support groups, Weight Watchers is one of the most stunning entrepreneurial success stories ever recorded.

In 1961 Jean Nidetch was an overweight, 40year old homemaker living in Queens, New York. At 214 pounds and wearing a size 44 dress, Nidetch was always on a diet but never lost any weight. Thoroughly discouraged by dieting fads that didnt help her, she attended a diet seminar offered by the City Board of Health in New York City. Although she lost 20 pounds following the advice provided, she soon discovered her motivation diminishing. Determined to stay on her diet and lose weight, she phoned a few overweight friends and asked them to come to her apartment. When her friends arrived, Nidetch confessed that she had an obsession for eating cookies. Her friends not only sympathized but also began to share their own obsessions about food. Soon Nidetch was arranging weekly meetings for her friends in her home. The women shared stories about food and offered each other support. Most importantly, they all began to lose weight.

Within a short time, Nidetch was arranging meetings for more than 40 people in her small apartment. Not long afterward, she began to arrange support group meetings at other peoples homes. As more and more people attended the meetings, Nidetch realized that losing weight was not merely adhering to a diet, but encouraging people to support each other and change their eating habits. One couple, Felice and Al Lippert, invited Nidetch to speak to a group of overweight friends at their house in Baldwin Harbor. After meeting every week for four months, Al lost 40 pounds and Felice lost nearly 50. Al Lippert, a merchandise manager for a womens apparel chain, began to give Nidetch advice on how to organize and expand her activities, and soon a fourperson partnership was formed among Nidetch and her husband, Marty, and Al and Felice Lippert. In May 1963, Weight Watchers was incorporated and opened for business in Queens, New York.

The companys first public meeting was held in a space located over a movie theater. Although the meeting wasnt advertised, more than 400 people waited in line to hear Nidetch speak. Nidetch divided the crowd into groups of 50 and spent the entire day addressing the overwhelming guilt and hopelessness that many people felt about being overweight, as well as providing advice about shedding pounds effectively. Nidetch began to hold meetings three times a day, seven days a week. When she started to show signs of fatigue, Al Lippert suggested that she pick key people who had lost weight themselves and had strong communication skills to help her expand the program. The first 100 people chosen to run meetings throughout New York City shared their personal stories and helped people gain control over their eating habits. Nidetchs extraordinary speaking skills and Al Lipperts genius for organization helped raise Weight Watchers to the level of an evangelical movement.

From 1963 to 1967, Lippert organized training programs, expanded the number of company locations throughout the United States, and implemented a franchising system. By 1968, Weight Watchers had 102 franchises in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and Puerto Rico. It was relatively easy for a person to get a franchise for Weight Watchers programs. Lippert sold the territory for a minimal fee, then charged the franchisee a royalty rate of 10 percent on the gross income. The most important requirement was that the franchisee had graduated from the companys programs and kept off the weight that he or she had lost. Most of the franchisees were women from New York City who were willing to travel to establish a Weight Watchers franchise. This group was emotionally involved in the program and had a great deal of faith in its principles; as a result, their commitment to the franchise sometimes bordered on religious fervor.

The mid and late 1960s saw a boom for the company. In 1965 Lippert contracted various food companies in the United States to produce Weight Watchers food lines for supermarkets and grocery stores, including lowcalorie frozen entrees and dry and dairy lowcalorie foods. Lippert was also creative in other ways. He designed a billfold that held small packets of sugar substitutes, skimmed milk, and bouillon that enabled adherents of the Weight Watchers program to more easily control their diet when away from home. Lippert began to sell items for use in the Weight Watchers classroom, such as postal scales to weigh food; established a joint venture with National Lampoon to publish Weight Watchers Magazine; and opened a summer camp for children with weight problems.

One of the companys most successful ideas, created under the direction of Felice Lippert, was the publication of a Weight Watchers cookbook. Since the inception of the company, Felice Lippert had been in charge of new recipe development, nutrition, and food research. Her first Weight Watchers cookbook catapulted to the top of the bestseller lists and sold more than 1.5 million copies. In 1968 the company made its first stock offering to the public. Although some financial analysts on Wall Street were skeptical of the offering, the general public was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The first day of trading saw Weight Watchers stock shoot up from an initial price of $1¼ to $30.

In 1973 Weight Watchers held its 15th anniversary celebration in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Host of past Republican and Democratic party presidential conventions, legendary boxing matches, and other historic national events, the Garden was filled to the rafters with admirers of the Weight Watchers program. It was a far cry from the 10th anniversary celebration held just five years earlier, which was held in a high school auditorium. Although celebrities in attendance included Bob Hope and Pearl Bailey, people had really come to see Jean Nidetch. She spoke until 1:30 a.m., with the crowd captivated by her inspiring stories.

With the companys rapid growth, in 1973 Nidetch decided to resign from her position as president of Weight Watchers to devote herself entirely to public relations. She traveled the world granting an endless number of radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews and speaking to huge audiences about the success of Weight Watchers programs. Al Lippert continued to organize the operation, hiring Dr. Richard Stuart, an expert in behavioral psychology, to helped the company create a training department and design the first guides and manuals for the Weight Watchers program. Lippert also hired Carol Morton, a Weight Watchers graduate and German teacher, to begin operations in Europe. From 1974 to 1976 Lippert, along with a growing list of professional staff members in the areas of marketing, advertising, licensing, and nutrition, began to formalize a strategy for continued growth. Weight Watchers was not only an inspirational program that helped people lose weight, but a highly successful business venture. Lippert and his staff focused on the best way to attract people to Weight Watchers meetings and to sell them food, cookbooks, magazines, camps, spas, and various other weightloss products.

By the late 1970s, however, Al Lippert had experienced two heart attacks and recognized that the phenomenal growth of Weight Watchers was much too rapid for his small management group to handle. Annual revenues had grown to approximately $50 million, and it was at this point that Lippert started searching for a larger corporate partner to help Weight Watchers achieve the next level of organization and success. H. J. Heinz Company approached Lippert about purchasing Foodways National, one of Weight Watchers frozen food licensees. Heinz initially sought to merge Foodways with OreIda, its own frozen food and controlledportion entree producer. Heinz management, however, soon realized that it was the Weight Watchers International brand name that was valuable, not its licensee. As a result, Heinz acquired Weight Watchers and Foodways National in 1978 for approximately $100 million. Lippert remained chief executive officer and chairman of the board at Weight Watchers.

Between 1978 and 1981, management at Heinz assimilated Weight Watchers into its corporate organization. Heinz divided the company into three parts: Foodways Nationals frozen food business was subsumed under OreIda; Camargo Foods, a condiments, dry snacks, and dairy producer, and a licensee of Weight Watchers which was also purchased by Heinz, was merged with Heinz U.S.A.; and Weight Watchers meeting service business remained Weight Watchers International. Heinzs strategy was to incorporate the food business of Weight Watchers into its own food operations, while allowing the meeting service business to continue functioning separately.

Chuck Berger, the new president of Weight Watchers International, initiated an aggressive strategy that included an innovative program for weight loss, an improved meeting service, and a plan to buy back the companys franchise territories. In 1983 Berger became CEO of Weight Watchers International and, along with Andrew Barrett and Dr. Les Parducci, laid the foundation for a brand new weightloss diet. Dubbed Quick Start, the diet aimed to quicken the rate of weight loss during the first two weeks. Launched with a wellconceived media blitz, the new program helped to double the companys revenues within two years. Barrett, as executive vicepresident, improved marketing, added new food product lines, and concentrated on the lifestyle needs of people with weight control problems. One of his most successful ideas was the At Work Program, which organized meetings for professional women at their place of work.

Between 1982 and 1989, Weight Watchers International experienced unprecedented growth in product sales. In 1982 the Weight Watchers brand name food items switched from aluminumtray to fiberboard packaging, and introduced one of the worlds first lines of microwaveable frozenfood entrees. Foodways National also introduced lowcalorie dessert products, and by 1988 the companys desserts had a larger market share than Sara Lee and Lean Cuisine. In 1982 Weight Watchers Magazine had a circulation of approximately 700,000 readers; by 1986, circulation had increased to over one million. The magazine had changed its focus and was marketed to women committed to selfimprovement. Collaborating with TimeLifes books division, Weight Watchers International developed a series of highly successful fitness tapes for the video market and started additional projects for books, audiotapes, and videos in the areas of exercise, weight loss, and health awareness.

By 1988, each of the three separate business units of Weight Watchers was recording skyrocketing revenues. When combined, sales for the Weight Watchers businesses amounted to over $1.2 billion. Even as these figures were released, however, the weight control business was changing dramatically. In 1989 and 1990, numerous competitors like Jenny Craig, Slim Fast, Healthy Choice, and NutriSystem began to challenge Weight Watchers for a share of the market. During 1990 and 1991, after nearly seven years of increasing market share, the company suddenly stopped growing. Sales of Weight Watchers brand food products declined precipitously, and even the renowned support group meetings began to fall in attendance.

In 1991 Brian Ruder, a vicepresident in marketing at Heinz, was hired as the president of a newly reconstituted Weight Watchers Food Company. Ruder immediately embarked on a comprehensive reorganization strategy, implementing new sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, and research and development procedures. Within 15 months of the new companys formation, Ruder had redesigned almost half of its products. New product development time amounted to a mere 14 weeks, down from the 22month cycle previously adhered to. One product line, lowfat, low calorie entrees called Smart Ones, was an immediate success. During the same time, Dr. Les Parducci was appointed by Heinz management as the head of Weight Watchers International. Parducci revamped the companys strategy for meeting services by simplifying the contents of programs, relocating meetings to more attractive surroundings, introducing more fun and interesting materials for members, and developing an entire new line of convenience food products.

In 1994 Michael McGrath replaced Ruder as the president of Weight Watchers Food Company. McGraths background included experience as vicepresident of Krafts Budget Gourmet. The new president continued to focus on food product introduction, with an emphasis on nutrition and taste. Weight Watchers International, with Parducci in charge, focused on sophisticated and innovative techniques that helped meet the needs of customers seeking to lose weight. Although the weightloss market as a whole has suffered from strong antidiet public sentiment in the early and mid1990s, Weight Watchers is still the program of choice among those people who want to control their weight.

Further Reading

Dienstag, Eleanor Foa, The Weight Watchers Story, In Good Company: 125 Years at the Heinz Table, Warner Books, 1994, pp. 21143.

The History of Weight Watchers, Jericho, N.Y.: Weight Watchers International Inc., 1995, pp. 12.

Schroeder, Michael, The Diet Business Is Getting a Lot Skinnier, Business Week, June 24, 1991, p. 132.

Thomas Derdak

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Nutri/System

Nutri/System Franchised weight loss centres, founded by US entrepreneur Harold Katz, 1971.

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Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers A slimming club, founded in Queens, NY, by Jean Neditch, 1963.

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Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers

Definition

Origins

Description

Function

Benefits

Precautions

Risks

Research and general acceptance

Resources

Definition

Weight Watchers is the largest commercial weight-loss program in the world. The diet is based on calorie and portion control while eating regular food, exercise, and behavior modification.

Origins

By the mid 2000s, more than 25 million people worldwide had participated in the Weight Watchers program that was started in the living room of an overweight housewife in Queens, New York. When Jean Nidetch needed to lose weight, she attended a diet clinic sponsored by the New York City Board of Health. However, after she had lost about 20 lb (10 kg), she found it hard to remain motivated to stay on the diet. Her solution was to ask a group of overweight friend to come to her house and talk about their eating and dieting challenges. This group evolved into a regular support group. While attending this group, Nidetch had the insight that dieting was not just about food, but about changing behaviors.

KEY TERMS

Cholesterol —a waxy substance made by the liver and also acquired through diet. High levels in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dietary supplement —a product, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or enzyme, that is intended to be consumed in addition to an individual's diet with the expectation that it will improve health

Type 2 diabetes —sometime called adult-onset diabetes, this disease prevents the body from properly using glucose (sugar), but can often be controlled with diet and exercise.

Two years later in 1963, Nidetch established Weight Watchers as a company and held her first public meeting. Demand for her program far exceeded expectations. Over the years the program evolved to incorporate new research in nutrition. Behavior management modules and an exercise program were added. In 1978 the company was bought by H. J. Heinz Company, which added a line Weight Watchers supermarket foods. Today Weight-Watcher endorsed cookbooks, exercise tapes, and a magazine all are available to support dieters who are either Weight Watcher members or who want to try the diet plan on their own.

Description

The fundamental message of the Weight Watcher program is “move more, eat less.“There is nothing unique about this approach to dieting. What distinguishes the Weight Watchers program are the tools it provides members to stay motivated to meet these goals.

There are two ways to join Weight Watchers. The traditional method is to attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings. More than 29,000 meetings are held in Weight Watchers centers, churches, hospitals, and workplaces each week in 27 different countries. Meetings last about 50 minutes and are led by a trained Weight Watcher member who has lost weight using the program and has successfully kept the weight off.

Upon registering, members set their first goal as losing 10% of their body weight. Once this goal is reached, a final weight goal is selected based on the individual's height, age, and gender. In 2007, registration in the United States cost about $30 and weekly meetings between $10 and $12, Discounts are available in the form of monthly passes, and each year Weight Watchers offers at least one period when the registration fee is waived. A bring-a-friend program allows people to attend a meeting before signing up for the program. Members can attend any meeting anywhere in the world and have the option of attending more than one meeting each week at no additional charge, but they can only be weighed once a week.

Weight Watchers Online is a program designed to let people follow the Weight Watchers diet at home without attending weekly meetings. The step-by-step plan provides the same information as the in-person plan, but lacks the support of and accountability to the group. Weight Watches Online costs about half as much as the in-person meetings.

Weight Watchers meetings are a combination of nutrition education, behavior modification, and motivational psychology. Weight Watchers diet plans have evolved over the years. The current system gives members a choice of two plans, he Flex Plan or the Core Plan. The Flex Plan assigns a point value per serving to every food. Points are based on the amount of calories, dietary fiber, and fat in the food. One point is roughly equal to 50 calories. Written material and an online database give the point value of most common foods. A small cardboard Points Calculator that works something like an old-fashioned slide rule lets members calculate the point value of any food based on nutrition information on the product's label. Dieters are assigned a number of Daily Points. They may eat anything they wish so long as they stay within their allotted points. In reality, to follow the plan dieters must select low calorie options—lean meats, lots of fruits and vegetables, and reasonable helpings of carbohydrates. Points are adequate for an occasional treat.

The Core Plan gives dieters a list of “core foods.” They may eat unlimited quantities (within reason) of any of the core foods without weighing or measuring. This simplifies shopping and food preparation, but also reduces variety in the diet. A weekly points allowance can be spent on foods that are not core foods. Dieters are told to choose either the Flex Plan or the Core Plan, but they may switch from one to the other on a weekly basis.

Every Weight Watchers meeting has a behavioral module. These modules help dieters uncover harmful behaviors and suggest ways to correct them. For instance, one module may deal with eating in response to stress. Another might be on how to handle people who want to sabotage your diet, challenges of eating out, handling holiday meals, fitting exericse into daily life, or overcoming feelings of low self-worth. These topics are presented by the leader and often supported with short worksheets or take-away information. Members are encouraged to share their experiences and make suggestions for solutions that are then summarized and reinforced by the leader. Weight Watchers eTools (different from Weight Watchers Online) offers online support for behavior change along with recipes and dieting tips.

Motivation is a big part of the Weight Watchers program. At every in-person meeting, the member is privately weighed and their weight recorded. Even small successes are celebrated. Members receive recognition for every 5 lb (2 kg) of weight loss, along with larger recognition for attending 16 weekly meetings (the number Weight Watchers says is needed to change behavior), losing 10% of their body weight, and reaching their goal weight. Lifetime membership is conferred on individuals who reach their goal weight and stay at or below that weight for at least six weeks. Lifetime members may attend meetings free so long as they weigh in at no more than 2 lb (1 kg) above their goal weight. If their weight is out of that range, they pay the weekly meeting fee, but never have to pay a registration fee once they have achieved Lifetime status.

Daily exercise is strongly encouraged at Weight Watchers, but it is not a required part of the program. Individuals who exercise can earn extra points to spend on food if they wish. Walking is strongly encouraged, and Weight Watchers sells branded pedometers to encourage walkers to gradually increase their walking activity to 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles). Some motivational exercises involve group tracking of physical activity. For example, one group may set themselves the challenge to, as a group, walk the number of steps it would take to travel from the distance from Boston to Washington DC within a certain number of weeks.

Function

Weight Watchers is a calorie controlled, portion-controlled diet plan that is intended to change the individual' eating and exercise habits for a lifetime.

Benefits

Some benefits of the Weight Watchers program include:

  • The diet uses regular food, keeping costs low. Weight Watchers-branded foods are available in most supermarkets, but members are not required to buy them to use the diet plan.
  • The Weight Watchers plan does not require or encourage individuals to use dietary supplements.
  • The diet plan is designed for slow, steady weight loss of between 1.5 and 2 lb per week (0.6-1 kg)
  • Dieters are given tools to explore the emotional roots of their eating problems so that they can be understood and changed.
  • Membership is on a pay-as-you-go system. There are no long-term contracts or large upfront fees.
  • The program has an extensive selection of approved recipes and support tools available at no additional charge.
  • The POINTS system makes it possible to fit unusual or ethnic foods into the diet.
  • It is not necessary to cook separate meals for other family members. Home cooked meals that fit the Weight Watchers diet plan are suitable (and healthy) for the entire family.
  • The Weight Watchers program is recognized as safe and healthy by many accredited medical organizations. In some cases, the member's health insurance will pay a portion of the meeting fees.
  • Weight Watchers has a special set of weight-loss tool designed just for men.

Despite these benefits, the Weight Watchers program is not for everyone. Some people find the group meeting a bit too cheerleaderish to feel comfortable. However many dieters attend the same meeting week after week and develop relationships with other members and a sense of accountability to the group that motivates them to stay on the diet.

Precautions

Weight Watchers does not accept children under age 10 or pregnant women. Children under age 17 must present written medical permission to join the program. Teens and breastfeeding women must agree to follow a special plan to meet their dietary needs. Weight Watchers will not accept anyone whose weight is within 5 lb (2.3 kg) of the lowest weight in their goal range, nor does it accept people with a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa (binge and purge disorder). The Weight Watchers program is not intended to treat or cure any particular disease or disorder.

Risks

Individuals who are under treatment for an illness, taking prescription drugs, or on a therapeutic diet (e.g. low sodium, gluten-free) should consult their doctor about the Weight Watchers plan and follow any changes or modifications the physician makes to the Weight

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE DOCTOR

  • Do I have any special dietary needs that this diet might not meet?
  • Do I have any health conditions that might affect my participation in this diet?
  • Are there any sign or symptoms that might indicate a problem while on this diet?
  • At what level of intensity is it appropriate for me to begin exercising?
  • Do you have any experience with the long-term success of this diet?
  • If one of your family members wanted to go on a diet, would you recommend this one?

Watchers plan. Failure to do this can increase the risk of developing health complications.

Research and general acceptance

Of all the commercial diet plans, Weight Watchers is the plan that is most enthusiastically accepted by the medical community. The program has been in existence for more than 40 years. Many independent studies have confirmed that it is a safe and effective way to lose weight. In comparison studies, members that attend Weight Watchers meetings lose more weight than those who join the program but do not go to meetings. The Weight Watchers plan also compares favorably to other diet plans in terms of total weight loss and maintenance of weight loss. Unlike some diets, the Weight Watchers plan does not address specific health issues such as lowering blood pressure or cholesterol levels, or controlling type 2 diabetes without drugs, although these effects may occur as a result of adherence to the diet and weight loss.

Resources

BOOKS

Icon Health Publications. Fad Diets: A Bibliography, Medical Dictionary, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2004.

Rippe, James M. Weight Loss That Lasts: Break Through the 10 Big Diet Myths. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Scales, Mary Josephine. Diets in a Nutshell: A Definitive Guide on Diets from A to Z. Clifton, VA: Apex Publishers, 2005.

Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers All-time Favorites: Over 200 Best-ever Recipes From the Weight Watchers Test Kitchens. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.,2007.

PERIODICALS

Kaplan, Lee. “Weight-loss Programs.” Weigh Less, Live Longer (Harvard Special Health Report). Harvard Publications Group 2006.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606—6995. Telephone:(800)877—1600.Website:<http://www.eatright.org>

Healthy Discovery: A Weight Watchers Support Network.<http://www.healthdiscovery.net>

Weight Watchers official Website. <http://www.weightwatchers.com> Weight Watchers official Website. <http://www.weightwatchers.com>Telephone:(800)651—6000.

Other

Harvard School of Public Health. “Interpreting News on Diet.” Harvard University, 2007. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/media.html>

Health Diet Guide “Weight Watchers.” Health.com.2005. <www.health.com/health/web/DietGuide/weight-watchers_complete.html>

Northwesternutrition “Nutrition Fact Sheet: Weight Watchers.” Northwestern University, January 2007.<http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/nutrition/factsheets/weight-watchers.html>

Tish Davidson, A.M.

Welsh diet seeNorthern European diet

West African diet seeAfrican diet

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