The largest commercial weight loss program (with >40% of market share) in the world has adopted a strange new strategy: Switch the focus AWAY from weight!

I'm not, like, a branding expert, or anything, but, didn't they kind of invent worrying about weight? Isn't that sort-of the Name of The Company?

To put it in context: weight watchers is actually just getting in line with scientific consensus: True weight loss is rare (as I argue in a post with this name). The new program, "Beyond The Scale," helps members to downplay the importance pounds and increase the focus on "health."

This is, as far as I know, the second time the famous "points" system of weight watchers has changed. The first was about a decade ago and the response from the public was the same: The newer system "doesn't work."

Keep in mind that WW has been studied repeatedly and found to "work" if what you mean is that you can lose more weight than what happens if your doc just tells you to "eat less and exercise more." In the most recent review of commercial programs, Kimberly Gudzune published in Annals of Internal Medicinthis year, that weight watchers produces 2.6% greater weight loss than usual (crappy) advice from clinicians. She ends the article recommending that, as the affordable care act considers covering obesity treatment, that WW and Jenny Craig should be legitimate referrals.

The 2.6% actually represents just a few pounds, however. If you are looking to lose 20 or 30 pounds, many studies have shown commercial weight loss repeatedly to fail on average. However, in a letter regarding this subject in response to the above study in Annals of Internal Medicine, obesity researcher William Yancy said something really intelligent. While acknowledging that average weight loss results are abysmal when studied, he notes that:

"Because many participants have achieved substantial weight loss with these commercial programs, we should be cautious about discouraging their use on the basis of average comparative effectiveness."

I predict that what happened last time WW changed the formula will re-occur: many customers will figure out how to make the system "work" for them, based on experiment. Bodies are all different so anyone who was thriving before may not thrive right away, but many who did poorly with WW in the past may find it works better for them.

From what I've read from my obesity society news, the new system is MUCH SMARTER than the old and reflects what's been happening in the science for the last 20 years. Protein is given a better score than other macronutrients (which in the backwards, "we shouldn't eat" weight watchers world, means it gets a LOWER score) and the different types of fats are scored based on whether we should avoid them. This again, reflects that very few scientists believe that fat is bad, but that type of fat may be important.

In addition, one of the big miscalculations in the old system has been removed: You can no longer eat more when you exercise, or at least you will no longer think that those two things are coordinating a "calories in-calories out" response that leads to weight loss. The new system recommends that you keep exercise goals and food goals in separate departments: one is related to pounds, the other to fitness. This is a change that I can only applaud. In fact, I am typing this while attempting a standing ovation.

The last component change is a recommendation to track components of "inner strength" which  means that the WW program wants to acknowledge that there are many aspects of health that relate to emotion and resilience and have little to do with food. Again: It's about time.

So overall, there seems nothing in the new recommendations that's worse, much that's better, and the Chief Scientific Officer for WW, Gary Foster, should receive special credit for getting this established brand to promote much more scientifically sound ideas about weight.

All that's left is to fix the name. . . or just close up shop. One wonders: If Weight Watchers is no longer focused on weight, do they have a reason to be in business??

If you read this far, you may want to check out my new book, available for kindle: