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Consumers want information on weight loss and maintenance in deciding on a diet

Yale University : 29 January, 2003  (New Product)
Consumers debating which commercial weight-loss program to follow want to know how much weight those following the diet have lost, yet such information is often not readily available, according to researchers at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
In addition to the weight loss data, consumers are most interested in a program's safety, cost, prescribed diet and behavior modification. Least important to consumers were the credentials of the staff, according to the study published this month in the journal, Obesity Research.

'We have many different government rules and safety nets for people's health, yet there are few for weight loss, although this is an important concern for so many people,' said lead author Shirley Wang, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Yale. 'The information consumers are probably most interested in is weight loss data, but weight loss programs have been unable or unwilling to provide such information.'

The Federal Trade Commission in the late 1990s convened a panel of experts to draft guidelines for commercial weight loss programs following complaints that some programs made false and misleading claims in marketing their products. In 1999, the panel, known as the Partnership for Healthy Weight Management, recommended that commercial weight-loss programs voluntarily provide to consumers information about the risks of being overweight and obese, staff qualifications, and the central components, safety and costs of the programs.

The panel could not agree on whether companies should disclose data concerning short- and long-term weight losses, although researchers said at the time this information was essential for consumers to make informed decisions in choosing a weight-loss program. Industry representatives argued that they did not have the resources or expertise to provide such data.

Wang said the FTC-convened panel did not collect data from consumers about what they wanted to know when considering commercial weight-loss programs. This pilot study sought to determine the type of information that individuals would like to be provided when choosing a commercial weight-loss program and whether the guidelines sought that information.

The researchers interviewed 90 overweight women and asked them to fill out a questionnaire in which they ranked 16 factors to consider in selecting a weight-loss program. The participants also were asked to list the five most important factors and then the single most important factor.

The five most important factors they listed were cost, prescribed diet, safety, typical weight loss, and behavior modification. Safety was most often cited as the single most important piece of information. Information about staff credentials received one of the lowest ratings.

'Some commercial weight-loss programs have already begun to respond to consumers' interest in weight loss information,' Wang said. 'We hope that more will do so. Consumers can only make informed decisions about programs when they know approximately how much weight they can expect to lose.'

Wang conducted this research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine while working with Thomas Wadden, a study co-author who is director of the university's weight and eating disorders program.
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