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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Struggling to Shed the Pounds?

British Study Finds Weight Watchers Has the Edge


In my cardiology practice, I see the harm inflicted by overweight and obesity every day. It’s estimated that about 70 percent of Americans are overweight, and as many as one in three are medically obese. That’s alarming enough, but amongst heart patients, obesity levels are as high as 45 percent. Far from a matter of simple aesthetics, obesity increases the likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which contribute to heart disease. Obese people are also more likely to develop cancer, lung disease, and arthritis.

Most people suffering from obesity don’t want to live this way. Many struggle mightily to bring the problem under control, but in the end feel utterly defeated by their efforts to lose weight on their own. It’s easy to blame it on willpower, but weight loss is more complicated than that. Losing weight means a profound transformation of the routines and patterns of everyday life. In some cases, it may also create meaningful, and sometimes difficult, changes in relationships with friends and family.

When I visit with a patient, our time is limited and we often have several issues to discuss and deal with. Obesity may be a sore subject, yet I believe it’s important to mention its impact on my patients’ health. Nevertheless, I realize that my “lose weight and exercise” advice can only go so far.

For years, I have referred my patients to Weight Watchers. (Disclaimer: I have absolutely no ties to the group, monetary or otherwise.) I’ve seen diets and fads come and go, but have been consistently impressed with Weight Watchers’ results. A recent British study backs up my assessment. In this study, 740 obese men and women were randomly assigned to one of several 12 week weight loss programs. The alternatives included Weight Watchers, 2 other commercial programs based in the UK, a group-based program led by government-employed dieticians, and weekly individual counseling by either a primary care physician or a pharmacist.

Although all options were associated with some weight loss in the first few months, at the end of one year, the Weight Watchers participants had lost, and kept off, substantially more weight than any of the other programs. Perhaps even more interesting was the finding that although the personal counseling provided by the physicians and pharmacists was far more expensive than the group programs, it appeared to be much less successful initially and completely ineffective by the end of one year.

Weight Watchers was founded in 1963 and has evolved over the past four decades. Although the company sells branded foods and other products, they are optional. One important strength is the fact that it is designed to be a program that can adapt to a variety of food preferences and lifestyles.

As a cardiologist, I am thrilled when my patients lose weight by making smart choices about diet and exercise. They feel better, look healthier, and have more energy to live life to its fullest. And it is truly gratifying to be able to decrease (and sometimes even eliminate) the number of medications required to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Weight loss is hardly ever easy, but it is attainable. If you need help, a group like Weight Watchers can make an enormous difference in your life and the lives of those you love. 

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.