Weight Watchers & Obesity Medicine

At the beginning of March 2023, it was announced that Weight Watchers was acquiring the telehealth Obesity platform called Sequence. Sequence is an online subscription-based service that connects individuals that have obesity with clinicians that can prescribe obesity medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro.

Weight Watchers’ Yo-Yo Effect: Frustrations with a Decades-Old Program

Now my incoming rant is not about Sequence. Sequence is doing great work. No, today my beef is with Weight Watchers.

Weight Watchers has been around for decades. Nearly every single individual out of the 1,000s I have worked with has been on and off the weight watchers program for years. Losing and gaining the same 10-100 lbs of weight over and over. With some even starting in their early teens, tagging along with their moms. 

Weight Watchers or WW, as they are more commonly known, is a simplified calorie counting program. Different foods are assigned points – healthy or ‘good’ foods are assigned fewer points, and less healthy or ‘bad’ foods are assigned more points. You are then provided with a certain number of points that you can eat each day. The goal is to stay within your allocated number of points, and in theory, you will lose weight. 

All of the above is then supported with workshops and community support groups. With our advancements in technology, all of these things happen within the WW app. However, back in the day, members would show up to a specific location for in-person groups and, of course, a weigh-in. You can probably guess what happened – when the number on the scale went down, there was clapping and celebration. However, when the number stayed the same or went up, well, that meant, ‘you need to try harder.’

WW’s Impact on Diet Culture: My Personal Perspective

My problem with WW is not that their program didn’t work. Similar to all the other programs and diets, the key is a calorie deficit and if you attain that consistently you will lose weight. No, my problem with WW is that they are one of the main, if not the main contributor to our current diet culture. Their program and paradigm were built on the idea that obesity can be treated by simply eating less and moving more, with more emphasis on the former. Further, the categorizing of foods as good and bad, coupled with a hyper fixation on the scale, likely f*cked up millions of people. 

If we take a young teen girl who is already struggling with hormones and peer pressure and is fixated on how her body looks. Then we provide her with a 1,200 calorie or less per day diet wrapped up in a nice little point system and have her step on a scale once a week in front of a bunch of other people who only celebrate her and, in essence, tell her she is worthy when the number on that scale goes down. What do you think is going to happen?

So for a company that spent the last 60 years creating eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and contributing to the obesity epidemic to suddenly decide they want to jump in on the obesity medicine bandwagon? Ya, that’s my problem with this acquisition. 

The cynic in me thinks they did this on purpose. Spend 60 years creating the demand and at just the right time jump in to also control the supply. Bloody brilliant business plan if you think about it.

Wouldn’t you know it, their stock price spiked shortly after the press release on March 7th? It came back down rather quickly, as I assume a number of smart investors dumped their shares. However, I have no doubt the stock will climb once more once the acquisition is complete and Sequence becomes integrated into the WW programs. P.S. This is not financial advice! 

I believe WW has done a lot of harm over the years. I see the damage every day with my clients and patients. Despite that, I am trying to remain optimistic. WW has made strides over the years by focusing on ‘lifestyle’ behaviours such as water intake, activity, sleep, and stress management. Although no one downloads their app for ‘health’ purposes, and it’s still a far cry from where they need to be, but it is progress. 

I know it is hard not to raise an eyebrow at their timing of this acquisition, but hopefully, those at the top will do good. Hopefully, this move will improve access to obesity clinicians and medications. Only time will tell. 

End Rant.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out. If you got some benefit out of this article, feel free to share it with a friend.

Otherwise, always remember that small tweaks lead to massive peaks! 

Until next time.  

Dr. Dan

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