When it comes to weight loss, social support is one of the best tools

For people trying to shed excess pounds, doing so with the support of other people is one of the best ways to ensure success, reveals a new study from Baylor College of Medicine.

The research, which was conducted with a grant from Weight Watchers International, found that participants who took part in the popular weight-loss program were more than eight times more likely to lose 5 percent of their body weight over six months than people who tackled weight loss alone. And while the study is merely good marketing collateral for Weight Watchers, it also sheds light on how important social support is for people who are trying to lose weight.

Predictors for success

In analyzing the weight loss achieved by the people who attended Weight Watchers meetings, researchers discovered that a variety of behaviors were important for success, including the use of online-based tools, community message boards or discussion forums. But the best predictor of success, they said, was attendance at group meetings. These gatherings usually include a discussion led by Weight Watchers veterans who have achieved and maintained long-term weight loss, where support and encouragement is offered to other members.

"It’s one of the harder changes people make in their lives, to lose weight, and we’re social animals," said Craig A. Johnston, the lead author of the study and Baylor School of Medicine psychologist. "Being around people who can encourage and reinforce you – people who are talking about that challenge – is going to help in terms of weight loss."

Variety helps

While the study suggests that peer-led meetings might be the most important part of weight loss, other experts argue that everyone is different – some people might more rely heavily on online recipes or discussion boards, or their needs may change during the weight loss journey.

"The inclination was to say, 'Oh, that’s a meeting person, that’s an online person,'" said Karen Miller-Kovach, Weight Watchers International's chief scientific officer. "But even if you could classify someone, they changed over time."

Still, the statistics on members who attended meetings are compelling: People whose meeting attendance fell in the upper half of the range were about 11-15 percent more likely to lose 5-10 percent of their body weight compared with people whose attendance was in the bottom half.

"Truly, weight loss is a journey, and how that person experiences it and what tool is most useful at what time changes," said Miller-Kovach. "It’s important to check in with someone during that journey and to recognize that in giving them that tool belt, the tools that they’ll need along the road will vary with time."

Source: LA Times

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