Diabetes is a growing problem. Weight loss is seen
as a good way to slow the progression of diabetes.
A study coordinated by the MUSC Health Weight Management Center shows
the scales tipping in Weight Watchers’ favor instead of standard care
when it comes to helping people with Type 2 diabetes.
‘People achieved better blood sugar control and lost more weight with the MUSC Health Weight Management Program than people who received standard care.’
Patrick O’Neil directs the Weight Management Center and led the 16-site study. Results were published in the Obesity Journal.
While the Weight Management Center has a high success rate at
helping patients lose weight to fight diabetes, many people with the
condition don’t live near a specialized program and need help that’s
readily available. O’Neil said because Weight Watchers has centers all
over the country, including sites in small towns with limited or no
medical facilities, its program could help meet this need if combined
with diabetes-specific counseling.
That’s why he said it was important for MUSC to be involved in the
study, which was funded by a grant from the commercial weight loss
program, Weight Watchers. Promoting healthy communities is part of
The multi-site study’s results were statistically and clinically significant, O’Neil said.
“The Weight Watchers people were significantly better off than
people who received standard care.” They achieved better control of
their blood sugar and lost more weight, he said. They still had
diabetes, but many were able to reduce the amount of medication they
The study’s 563 participants were all overweight or obese and under a
doctor’s care for uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes. Half got standard care:
a session of nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian and
written materials. The other half went to Weight Watchers meetings, had
access to Weight Watchers’ online materials and had two phone
consultations and follow-up email contact with certified diabetes
educators who told them how to modify the Weight Watchers plan to help
with their diabetes.
Participants had four follow-up visits related to the study and
continued to see their regular doctors for medical management of their
After a year, people in the Weight Watchers group had an average
weight loss of about 4% of their starting weight, compared to 2% for the standard care group. The Weight Watchers group also had a
bigger improvement in a measure of long-term control of their blood
sugar, which can reduce the risk for serious problems related to Type 2
diabetes. Left uncontrolled, the condition can damage blood vessels and
nerves, putting people at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It
can also cause eye problems, kidney damage and even lead to amputations.
Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:
* Being overweight
* Not getting enough exercise
* Being 45 or older
* Having a family member with Type 2 diabetes
Certain racial and ethnic groups are more at risk, including
African-Americans and Hispanics. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, which is caused
by an immune reaction, Type 2 diabetes develops over the course of
years. So incremental improvements such as the ones seen in the MUSC-led
study are important.
“It wasn’t a huge, overwhelming difference,” O’Neil said. “But it
was scalable, meaning it could be applied to the whole population.”
The whole population of people with Type 2 diabetes includes more
than 20 million Americans. It’s by far the more common form of diabetes
and can lead to about $85,000 in medical costs.
O’Neil said the rate jumped from
about 9% to 12% between 2002 and 2012.
The MUSC Health Weight Management Center takes a scientific approach
to weight loss, focusing on changes in activity levels, behavior,
thinking, diet and support systems. O’Neil said it’s important to help
people, not blame them.
The Weight Watchers study is new evidence of what that help might
include when it comes to a side effect of weight gain: Type 2 diabetes.
“You do have some power and control,” he said. “You can lose some weight
and lower your blood sugar – and may even be able to change your
medications. That’s no small feat in treating diabetes.”