(CBS) - Commercial weight loss programs may be just as good -- if not better -- than those that come from a health care professional.
A new study showed that people enrolled in Weight Watchers lost as much weight on average as people who were guided by a medical professional.
"Group-based weight-loss treatment produced weight loss, whether delivered by a professional or peer counselor," study author Angela Marinilli Pinto, assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College of the City University of New York, told HealthDay. "When people are in a group with others on the same journey, they feel there is that element of, 'OK, this worked for him or her, perhaps it will work for me. Perhaps I can give it a try.'"
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults - 35.7 percent are obese. An additional 33.3 percent are overweight.
The researchers followed 141 overweight or obese men and women, and assigned them to one of three weight loss methods.
One group got 48 weeks of behavioral weight-loss treatment led by a medical advisor. The Weight Watchers group was enrolled in the program for 48 weeks and were expected to attend meetings, which were led by fellow members who had reached and maintained a healthy goal weight. The third group was first given 12 weeks of weight-loss treatment led by a medical professional, and then were enrolled in 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health but all of the Weight Watchers program costs were covered by the company.
At the end of the 48 week study, the group advised by medical professionals lost on average 11.9 pounds, the Weight Watchers group lost 13.2 pounds and the combination group lost 7.9 pounds. Overall the numbers were not considered statistically different from one another.
One-third of the Weight Watchers group lost 10 percent or more of their starting weight, compared to only 11 percent of the health professional group and 15 percent of a group that had a combination program.
"The Weight Watchers group produced better weight loss than this novel approach [of combining peer and professional]," Pinto said. "Better meeting attendance is associated with better weight losses."
Weigh Watchers costs about $10 a week, compared to between $10 to $35 in weekly costs for a doctor's weight loss program, Pinto said. In addition, it may be hard for people to travel to a doctor's office weekly, while it's easier to meet up at a community-located meeting.