MUSC Weight Management Center Study Finds Losses With Commercial Model Can Lead to Health Gains

Contact: Heather Woolwine

Nov 14, 2016

CHARLESTON, SC – Patients with diabetes, who have struggled to achieve lasting weight loss, now have study evidence that suggests an adapted, well-known weight loss program combined with complementary diabetes education can lead to weight loss and improved control of their diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes diagnoses continue to rise in a nation battling an obesity and overweight epidemic, and patients and health care providers alike need program and treatment solutions that not only lead to weight loss, but also improved diabetes control for overall improvements in health. Only 72 percent of adults with diabetes are diagnosed and of them, only 57 percent are able to control glycemic levels. Researchers already know that modest weight loss and improved glycemic control can occur from intensive clinical interventions for these patients, but previous data have been sparse on the effects of commercial weight loss programs for this growing and widespread patient population.

“Patients and providers alike need a broader arsenal of treatment options for managing diabetes, in particular options that are more accessible to the majority of people with diabetes,” said principal investigator Patrick M. O’Neil, Ph.D., MUSC Weight Management Center director and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “In this study we examined an enhancement of the widely available Weight Watchers program to make it potentially more useful for people with Type 2 diabetes.”

The study, published in the November 2016 issue of Obesity, was recently presented at the journal’s symposium Nov. 2 at a meeting during Obesity Week held by The Obesity Society in New Orleans. Funded by Weight Watchers International, it examined the ffects on glycemic control and weight loss of the standard Weight Watchers program, combined with telephone and email consultations with a certified diabetes educator (WW), when compared with standard diabetes nutrition counseling and education (standard care, SC). In a 12-month randomized controlled trial at 16 U.S. research centers, including MUSC, 563 adults with Type 2 diabetes spanning multiple ethnicities were assigned to either the commercially available WW program (regular community meetings, online tools), plus telephone and email counseling from a certified diabetes educator, or to SC (initial in-person diabetes nutrition counseling and education, with follow-up informational materials). All of the patients were already receiving treatment of their diabetes by a physician not associated with the study, all but 95 percent were on one or more diabetes medications at the time they entered the trial although their diabetes was not controlled within the recommended range. At the conclusion of one year, the patients in the WW group saw better overall glycemic control and more of them achieved ideal glycemic control versus the standard care group, the WW group lost more weight than the SC group, the WW group was able to reduce use of diabetes medications more than the SC group; and the WW group had greater reductions in waist circumference than the SC group. Both groups saw reduction of cardiovascular risk factors with small improvements in all lipid levels except triglycerides, and on blood pressure. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the groups on those cardiovascular outcomes.

“These results are promising because for many patients, finding an affordable, acceptable, and available treatment plan is crucial for lasting change,” O’Neil said. “Through this study we’ve been able to demonstrate that a commercial weight loss program such as Weight Watchers, when paired with diabetes-specific counseling and education efforts, can make a big difference for these patients and may be easier for them to adopt and accept than other more intensive clinical options.”

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the state's only comprehensive academic health system, with a unique mission to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates more than 3,200 students in six colleges – Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy – and trains more than 900 residents and fellows in its health system. MUSC brought in more than $300 million in research funds in fiscal year 2023, leading the state overall in research funding. MUSC also leads the state in federal and National Institutes of Health funding. Learn more about our academic programs.

As the health care system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest-quality and safest patient care while educating and training generations of outstanding health care providers and leaders to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Patient care is provided at 16 hospitals (includes owned or governing interest), with approximately 2,700 beds and four additional hospital locations in development, more than 350 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in all regions of South Carolina. In 2023, for the ninth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston the Number 1 hospital in South Carolina. Learn more about our patient services.

MUSC has a total enterprise annual operating budget of $5.9 billion. The nearly 26,000 MUSC family members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers, scientists, students, affiliates and care team members who deliver groundbreaking education, research, and patient care.