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Weight Watchers


Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW) is an international company that offers various dieting products and services to assist weight loss and maintenance. Founded in 1963 by Brooklyn homemaker Jean Nidetch, it now[update] operates in about 30 countries around the world, generally under names that are local translations of “Weight Watchers”. The core philosophy behind Weight Watchers programs is to use a science-driven approach to help participants lose weight by forming helpful habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise and providing support.

The term weight-watcher, in the same sense, had circulated publicly for several years before the company was formed.

Approach and Philosophy
Weight Watchers' core approach is to assist members in losing weight by forming helpful habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise and providing support. No food is off limits; however, the newest plan is "taking a stand for unprocessed foods" and has adjusted the cost of items while retaining the fundamental "counting, budgeting, and planning approach" that has been the hallmark of Weight Watchers plans since the introduction of Points-based counting systems. Thus in contrast to other diets that might provide a list of foods that must be, or should never be, eaten, Weight Watchers has no directly comparable requirements on its primary plan. Participants lose weight by creating a calorie deficit, the PointsPlus system provides a framework for creating that deficit. Accordingly, Weight Watchers is generally compatible with other diet approaches and/or food intake restrictions, e.g paleolithic diet, primal diet, South Beach diet, provided you use the Weight Watchers framework to measure and limit the quantity of food consumed while using the other diet plan to dictate the range of acceptable food choices.

There are two primary ways individuals can work with Weight Watchers: in-person meetings and an online-only program. Both programs use the same basic materials and computations. For in-person meetings, Weight Watchers encourages members to select a goal weight that results in a body mass index generally accepted as healthy (18 to 24.9), although a member may also establish a goal weight outside of that range after providing a doctor's note to that effect. In the United States, in order to join Weight Watchers, one must weigh at least 5 pounds (2.3 kg) more than the minimum weight for his or her height.

Once a member reaches his or her goal weight, he or she starts a maintenance period. For the following six weeks, the member gradually increases his or her food intake until the member no longer loses or gains weight. If, at the end of six weigh-ins during the maintenance period, the member weighs in within 2 pounds (0.91 kg) of his or her goal weight, he or she becomes a "Lifetime" member. A Lifetime member may attend meetings free of charge as long as he or she weighs in at least once per calendar month and, at any weigh-in, does not weigh more than 2 pounds (0.91 kg) more than his or her goal weight. If the member weighs more than 2 pounds (0.91 kg) over the goal weight at a weigh-in, he or she will be charged the weekly fee until he or she again obtains a weight within the target range. As long as a Lifetime member weighs in each month and stays within the target range, there is no fee for attending meetings, and the member may attend for the rest of his or her life. Unlike with new members, there is never a registration fee for Lifetime members, even if they regain weight or fail to weigh in every calendar month. Weight Watchers’ eTools is a Web-based service for members that includes access to support materials and tracking tools. The service is available for an additional fee for members who pay as they go, and is included in the fee for members who opt for the recurring "Monthly Pass" membership plan. In some areas Weight Watchers meetings are operated by a locally franchised organization rather than by Weight Watchers International.

Additionally, a fully online program is available via the Weight Watchers website. Online and meeting memberships are entirely separate and online-only members are not eligible for "Lifetime" status. The support system for Weight Watchers Online is a message board where members can post support and share advice. The message board (but not the other support tools) is available free of charge to the public; in an attempt to limit access to the essential plan information to its members, Weight Watchers prohibits the posting of Points or PointsPlus values for foods on the boards. See Weight Watchers#Criticism.

Weight loss plans
In the United States

The primary, current plan offered in the United States starting in November 2010 is called "PointsPlus". Touted by Weight Watchers as incorporating a decade of science compared to the prior Points-based plans, the focus remains on assisting members in creating a calorie deficit to lose weight using a reformulated calculation approach for computing target daily points (e.g. approximately how many calories per day should be eaten) and the costs of food (the PointsPlus values of food).

The calculation of the daily points targets is based on creating a 1,000 calorie/day deficit (WO application 2010025422 [0098]-[00109] and accompanying equations 16-19). This in turn means that members are assigned a daily point target in the range of 29-71 PointsPlus to consume each day. Additionally, members are allowed 49 PointsPlus each week, or weekly points, that they can spend how they wish throughout the week. Physical activity earns activity points that, like weekly points, can be used to supplement the daily points allowance.

As compared to prior Points-based plans, the main change is the direct computation of PointsPlus-values from macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) vs. calories and fat. Both formulas used dietary fiber information when it was available. The formulas are country specific based on the information on nutrition labels in a given country. The patent provides equations for different country labeling techniques.

This change allowed Weight Watchers to change the relative cost of the different macronutrients. Specifically, the relative weight of fat appears to be unchanged vs. the Momentum calculation; however, carbohydrates are "more expensive" and fiber is "less beneficial" and protein is only modestly changed. This increases the PointsPlus cost vs. the Point cost of a number of foods that were specially designed to take advantage of the old formula, e.g. muffins loaded with fiber to stay at 1 Point. The range of calories for one PointsPlus point is approximately in the range of 35-45 calories, in contrast one Point had a broader range of approximately 25-80 calories. However, because the approach for computing the daily points target has been refined (WO application 2010025422 [0098]-[00104] and accompanying equations 16 (male) and 17 (female)), most people have significantly more PointsPlus available as part of their daily points target than on the prior Momentum plan. For example, under the Momentum plan 18 was the minimum number of points; now 29 is the minimum number of points. Additionally, irrespective of the underlying nutritional information, on the PointsPlus plan, fruits and most vegetables are considered to have a PointsPlus value of 0.

As an alternative to the PointsPlus plan, participants can use the Simply Filling Technique. On the Simply Filling Technique, participants are intended to eat from a designated list of foods without the requirement to track. Categories of foods on the list include: most fruits and vegetables, whole grains, non-fat dairy and dairy substitutes, lean proteins,and a handful of other items. For items that a person eats that are not on the list, a weekly points allowance of PointsPlus points is available to be used and the value of that item must be tracked. Because the plan does not require tracking, participants must be mindful to "[e]at portions that feel right for [them]. Not so much that [they] feel too full, and not too little that [they] still feel hungry."

Weight Watchers implemented the Momentum Plan on December 7, 2008. The cornerstone of the plan is the proprietary Points formula, which allocates each food a value based on its calories, fat, and fiber. Members are allocated a certain number of points each day based on their height, current weight, age, and activity level. Members are also allowed 35 optional Points each week. Finally, members earn additional Points through exercise. These "Activity Points" are calculated based on the member's weight and the duration and intensity of the activity. Activity Points previously had to be consumed on the day that they were earned or they were lost; with the Momentum plan, they can be eaten on any day during the week.

The Momentum Plan encourages members to choose foods by meeting the "Good Health Guidelines." These include eating lean protein and whole grains, meeting target servings of fruits and vegetables and dairy or soy products, taking a multivitamin, exercising, eating healthy oils, drinking adequate liquids, and limiting sugar and alcohol. Additionally, the Momentum Plan encourages members to remain satisfied while dieting by focusing on eating foods identified as Filling Foods, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and soy products, and lean proteins, but this is not required. The effect of this is that the member is not prevented from eating any specific type of food, but he or she must consume foods only with his or her allotment of points. This stands in marked contrast to approaches such as the South Beach or Atkins diets, in which some foods are completely forbidden and others are permitted in as great a quantity as the dieter likes. The member also has the choice to exercise — which will entitle him or her to consume more food — or to eat food of lower Points value if he or she prefers not to exercise.

Many (but not all) of the Filling Foods also have a SetPoints value that allows members to eat a reasonable portion of the food and track the SetPoints value, rather than having to measure and calculate the exact Points value of the portion eaten. The Momentum Plan also includes an option that allows members to eat from the Filling Foods list without tracking Points values at all. This option, known as the Simply Filling Technique, is very similar to the former Core Plan. Members following the Simply Filling Technique do not receive a daily Points allowance, but eat to satisfaction from the Filling Foods list. They do, however, receive the 35 weekly Points, and are entitled to eat any Activity Points that they earn. The weekly Points and Activity Points may be used for foods that are not on the Filling Foods list.

Many Weight Watchers proponents enjoy the tracking option of the Momentum Plan precisely because no food is out of bounds as long as it is eaten in moderation. (In the UK, Weight Watchers advertises under the slogan “Where no food is a sin”; this is a reference to its chief competitor Slimming World’s system of giving some food “syn” values.) Others, however, dislike the record-keeping that the plan requires of participants, who must keep track of the Points values of everything they eat; they prefer the Simply Filling option or other plans that place restrictions on types of food rather than quantities.

In August 2004, Weight Watchers introduced the TurnAround program, incorporating parts of the Flex and Core food plans, but intended to assist people in developing an overall healthy lifestyle. Aside from encouraging healthy eating and providing member support, the program encouraged participants to follow eight Good Health Guidelines.

Historical Plans
Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers, wrote a book in the early 1970s "The Memoir of a Successful Loser The Story of Weight Watchers" that documented the original Weight Watchers plan. Specifically, the plan was a New York Board of Health diet from a public health/obesity clinic. That diet was a rigid diet with no substitutions and minimal flexibility. A recent analysis shows it was a low calorie diet.

That original plan was supplanted shortly after the book with materials bearing a 1972-73 copyright: “Weight Watchers(R) Program Handbook for Ladies”.[10] This plan was similar to the original plan.

By 1989, the plan had switched to an exchange-based diet. The document's subtitle and copyright dates make determining the exact date difficult, “The Quick Success(R) Program” with the subtitle “New for 1989” has a copyright date of 1987, 1988.

By 1997, the original Points-based program was introduced.

In the UK
In the UK during November 2010 the Points plan has been replaced with ProPoints. This is similar to the Points plan only the calculation now takes protein, carbohydrates, all fat and fiber into consideration. The following main changes were made from the Points to ProPoints plan:

* Change in formula, so the majority of foods now cost more ProPoints than Points
* Daily ProPoint allowances were increased however you are no longer allowed to carry your daily ProPoints over to the next day
* Most fruit and vegetables are now zero ProPoints
* All participants also have a weekly ProPoints allowance of 49 ProPoints which they can chose to use as they see fit throughout the week

In Ireland and Australia
In Ireland there has recently been a new plan launched called Discover. This is similar to the points plan that went before it, where one may eat fewer points daily than are allotted based on sex, weight, age, height, pregnancy status, and activity level and “spend” these points later within the week . However the Discover plan aims to help the user understand which foods are more filling, and make healthier choices. Part of the new Discover plan is an option which is similar to “The Core Plan”. This is called the Simply Filling technique. Users choose freely from the "filling foods" list and also allots 21 points per week outside of the filling foods list.

Weight Watchers claims that “Research shows that people who attend Weight Watchers meetings lose three times more weight than [those who diet on their own].” However, the results of the study were that the mean weight loss of Weight Watchers participants was 2.3 times more than (3.3 times as much as) the self-help group at one year, and essentially undefined at two years. Weight Watchers also claims that members who both use Weight Watchers’ Web-based eTools and attend meetings lose half again as much weight as those who only attend meetings, but it fails to cite a study to back up this claim, instead only referring to an unspecified “12 week study comparing people who were instructed to attend Weight Watchers meetings and use eTools to people who were instructed to attend Weight Watchers meetings alone”.

A clinical study involving Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and The Zone diets, published in 2005, reported that among the Weight Watchers participants the average net weight loss in a one-year period was 3.0 kilograms (6.6 lb).[citation needed] However, the study only included two months of “maximum effort”, letting the participants decide their level of adherence for the following ten months. Weight Watchers was the third most effective diet in terms of weight loss, and those that continued to adhere to any of the diets significantly decreased cardiac risk factors.

Like many other weight loss programs, Weight Watchers frequently offers promotions ranging from free registration to discounted fees if paid in advance. Members are required to pay the fees for missed meetings before a “weigh-in”, but a member never pays more for missed meetings than the amount of the new-member registration fee; if a member misses several consecutive meetings, he/she need only pay either the sum of the fees for the missed meetings or the new-member registration fee, whichever is the lesser.[citation needed]

If members are insured with particular insurance companies there are agreements that may reduce the member sign up fee or weekly weigh-in fee. However, Weight Watchers does not accept debit cards that participants receive with Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). Instead, participants must submit claim forms to get reimbursed for payments made to the plan. Also, the companies who administer FSA plans usually require a letter from a doctor be submitted with the claim detailing why the participant needs to lose weight; these letters must meet very specific criteria.

In corporate locations in the United States, members may pay $39.95 per month for a "Monthly Pass" that entitles them to attend meetings and provides access to eTools. In return, members agree that the monthly fee will be automatically debited from a debit or credit card and the pass mailed to them each month. Members can also pay with cash or check on a weekly Basis at the meeting location; the weekly rate is $12. Weight Watchers also offers an Online Only option, which forgoes meeting attendance and this rate is $17.95 per month but varies along with the company's sales specials.

The current spokesperson for Weight Watchers is actress/singer Jennifer Hudson. Prior spokespersons associated with the product were actresses Lynn Redgrave and Jenny McCarthy, and Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson.

The bulletin boards use the rubric of violations of intellectual property to attempt to enforce a prohibition against posting PointsPlus values for foods in the message boards. While Weight Watchers can legitimately impose rules on the use of its forums—including prohibiting posting of PointsPlus values—casting the restriction as a violation of intellectual property is misleading. In the United States, formulas standing alone cannot be subject to patent protection. See Gottschalk v.Benson. Formulas are similarly not subject to copyright, because they are functional as opposed to expressive in nature. Similarly, the fact that Weight Watchers has not sued ConAgra Foods for labeling packages with Points values, highlights the weakness of any trademark related intellectual property arguments—the usage of the Points trademark on the packages is a nominative trademark use that is protected under US law.

Corporate information
Corporate history

From 1978 until 1999, Weight Watchers was owned by the H. J. Heinz Company, which continues to produce packaged foods bearing the Weight Watchers brand (and with point values clearly identified). Weight Watchers was acquired in a leveraged buyout in 1999 by Artal Luxembourg and went public in 2001. Artal continues to own over 50% of the shares of Weight Watchers as of 2010.

Corporate governance
The current[update] members of the board of directors of Weight Watchers are Philippe Amouyal, John Bard, Raymond Debbane, Marsha Evans, Jonas Fajgenbaum, Linda Huett, Sacha Lainovic, Sam K. Reed and Christopher Sobecki.

Weight Watchers has not provided official confirmation of the Points or PointsPlus formulas and has aggressively sent cease and desist letters to websites and a number of third party tools that claimed to provide Points, or PointsPlus, calculations. See, e.g. Nonetheless, some companies such as ConAgra Foods have computed values for their frozen meals, Healthy Choice brand, without Weight Watcher's consent. See Weight Watchers#Criticism.

Additionally, as shown in Weight Watchers patent applications, the formulas are adapted in each country based on the information regularly provided on nutrition labels within a country.

For each program there should be three groups of formulas: a formula or chart to compute (daily) target consumption, a formula for computing the cost of foods, and a formula for computing the value of activity under the program to earn extra consumption. These formulas are present in Weight Watchers patents and are presented from those patents here.

PointsPlus (US; Nov 2010-)
Food Values

In November 2010, Weight Watchers in the United States announced that its Points system was being replaced by a new PointsPlus system. The old system was based on a calculation based on calories, fat, and fiber content. The new PointsPlus system is based on protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber:

where all units are grams. This formula is Equation 10 of with the preferred weightings for the macronutrients entered. Additionally, while not confirmed by Weight Watchers it is an empirical match to the Weight Watchers calculators.

Some foods such as fruits are treated has having a PointsPlus value of 0 by Weight Watchers standards despite having a non-zero value if entered directly into the Weight Watcher's calculator using the Nutrition facts label information.

Alcohol and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, malitol, etc.) are exceptions to the above formula. See at Equation 12 (paragraph [0090]) and Equation 14 (paragraph [0094]), respectively for specific formulas for those items. As a shorthand, you can enter alcohol grams as fat grams and sugar alcohols as carbohydrates grams in the formula provided. The reason alcohol is weighted more heavily than would otherwise occur is due to two reasons, see at paragraph [0089], (a) "based on the principle that alcohol is metabolized in the same pathway as fat" (treats alcohol as having 9 calories per gram) and (b) "based, in part, on the desirability of discouraging consumption of alcohol, due to the ill-healthy effects associated with this nutrient" (weights alcohol more than other sources of calories). This latter explanation is in spite of evidence linking moderate alcohol consumption to reduced incidence of coronary disease. This may have been done because of the inelastic nature of the point system, which is unable to distinguish between occasional and heavy drinking.

Food with Alcohol and Sugar Alcohol

or after simplifying so sugar alcohols which are included in the carbohydrate count on US nutrition labels only appears once:

Daily Points Target
For 2010 PointsPlus, the formulas in Equations 16-19 of show the basic calculation of daily points targets for adults age 19+:

Where TEEm and TEEf represent the total energy expenditure (in kCal) for men and women, respectively, on a basic day. Weight is provided in kilograms and height in meters.

The TEE is adjusted for foods treated as having a PointsPlus value of 0 despite having a caloric content:

ATEE =0.9 \cdot TEE + 200

Finally, the daily target can be computed:

Target = \mathrm{round} \left( \frac{\mathrm{min} \left( \mathrm{max} \left( ATEE - 1000, 1000 \right), 2500 \right) }{35} \right)

Note that the patent also suggests that 3000 might be the upper kCal limit as opposed to 2500 kCal and 500 might be the lower limit rather than 1000 kCal. The results of these patent-provided formulas produce a range from 29 to 71 matching the high and low range reported by Weight Watchers members.

The above would not account for the 49 weekly points, or 7/day.[28] Nor would it account for comments on the Weight Watchers boards discussing the patent and identifying an additional constant offset from the patent by a value of 11 in the middle of the points range, or 7 + 4.[29][30] In order to remain in the 29-71 range and account for this constant offset, the target formula would be:

Activity Points Under PointsPlus
The prior system described in U.S. Patent 6,663,564 at Col 6, lines 14-61, provided one activity point for approximately every 100 Calories expended vs. 1 Point of food having approximately 50 calories. The formulas used under the PointsPlus system must still be identified; however, if the same ratio of exercise to additional consumption is maintained, then each new activity point would correspond to 70 Calories expended vs. 1 PointPlus of food having approximately 35 calories.

ProPoints (UK, Nov 2010-)
Aside from differences in nutrition labeling resulting in a slightly different calculation of ProPoints from the label, there is no evidence to suggest the ProPoints system and PointsPlus systems are significantly different as of December 2010.

Food Values
In the UK during November 2010, Weight Watchers announced that its Points system was being replaced by a new ProPoints system. The new PointsPlus system is based on protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber:

where all input units are grams. This formula is based on Equation 10 of [23] and taking into account that the carbohydrate line on nutrition labels in the UK do not count the fiber. The formula also has been empirically compared with a third party ProPoints calculator

Points (US; Circa 1998-2010)
Food Values

The formula for calculating the value of a specific serving in points is described in U.S. Patent 6,040,531

where p is the number of points, c is the amount of energy in Calories (1 Calorie (Cal) ≡ 1 kilocalorie (kcal) ≈ 4.2 kilojoules (kJ)), f is the amount of fat in grams, and min{r,4} is the lesser of the amount of dietary fiber in grams or four. The value is always an integer, with fractional values rounded to the nearest point. An alternative version mentioned in the patent and used on some Web sites rounds values to the nearest half-point.

Daily Targets
Patent Based

Various versions of the prior Points-based programs have used different approaches to calculate the daily target points (and then providing 35 weekly points). Keep in mind the new PointsPlus program is different, see Weight_Watchers#Daily_Points_Target (49 weekly points provided on PointsPlus plan).

According to U.S. Patent 6,040,531 at Col. 5, lines 4-16, the points targets were assigned based on weight bands and ranged from 18-35 Points per day.

Survey Based
The above, patent-provided daily Points targets are not well correlated with the energy requirements of typical males or females. Accordingly, in one of the later incarnations of the Points-based plans (there were several: 1-2-3 Success, Winning Points, Flex, Turnaround, Momentum) Weight Watchers switched to a survey-based approach that provided a range from 18-44 points[33] together with 35 weekly points:

10% of your weight in pounds


2 points for females
8 points for males


4 points if you're between 17-26 years old
3 points if you're between 27-37 years old
2 points if you're between 38-47 years old
1 point if you're between 48-58 years old
0 points if you're over 58


0 points if you're under 5' 1"
1 point if you're between 5' 1" and 5' 10"
2 points if you're over 5' 10"


0 points if you spend most of your day sitting down
2 point if you spend most of your day standing
4 points if you are walking most of the time
6 points if you are doing physically hard work


10 points for mothers who are solely breast feeding
5 points for supplementing breastfeeding with some solid foods or formula

The sum (bounded below by 18 and at the top by 44) is the daily target.

Activity Points
According to U.S. Patent 6,663,564 at Col 6, lines 14-61, the formula for computing the additional consumption (extra Points) available for activity is described. Analysis of the formulas indicates that 1 point for activity is earned for approximately every 100 Calories of effort. Given that 1 Point could be approximated as 50 Calories, consuming activity points would still create a calorie deficit.

Food Values Outside the United States
Outside the United States, Nutrition facts labels are markedly different from those in the United States; in particular, energy is usually expressed in standard kilojoules (kJ) rather than Calories (kcal), and labels in some countries may not show fiber content. The points formula for some markets is based on energy (in kilojoules) and saturated (not total) fat. This formula is also described in U.S. Patent 6,040,531 at Col 3, lines 10-33 and Col 7, lines 10-20:

Where p is the number of Points, e is the energy value (in either kilojoules (kJ) or Calories (kcal)), and f is the amount of saturated fat in grams. The constants k1 and k2 are weights used in the formula. A practical implementation of this formula for a kilojoule-based calculation appears to be as follows:

or the following for a Calorie-based calculation:

The resultant value p is then rounded to the nearest half.

Note, the calorie based-formula is provided directly in Col 7, the kJ formula is a close match to the calorie based formula based on 70 kCal = 292.88 kJ.

Food Values, Alternative Calculation
An early version of the points system did not limit the fiber “credit” to four grams. Another variation, which may be explained by rounding, is that the “points finder” slide-rule distributed at Weight Watchers meetings does not reach a value of 1 unless an item has at least 70 calories (300 kJ), rather than 50 Cal (200 kJ) as the formula indicates. As a result, point boundaries are 20 calories (80 kJ) or 4.8 grams of fat higher than might be expected.

More recent versions of the program, such as that described in U.S. Patent 6,878,885, take exercise and physical activity into account to grant additional points in the daily allowance.

Calculation Aides
Members can either use Weight Watchers' published books with the PointsPlus values (or ProPoints values) for a variety of foods or they can use a Weight Watcher's calculator designed to accept the inputs required to compute PointsPlus values. The calculators sell for approximately $12.

Weight Watchers also sells small paperback books that list thousands of foods sold by fast-food and full-service restaurant chains as well as generic restaurant foods, e.g. “Mexican: refried beans, ½ cup” (120 mL), and corresponding point values. This is useful in cases where precise nutritional data are not available. These books are available for purchase at meetings and to online members via the website.

Former Calculation Aides
Prior to PointsPlus, members were given a cardboard slide rule to assist in calculating point values of foods. Because the new program has more inputs, the slide rule approach is no longer feasible. By reading the nutrition label on any food package and quickly adjusting three slide-rule scales for energy, fat, and fiber, the point value is easily determined by inspection of a fourth scale. Weight Watchers also sells an electronic calculator that performs the same functions. [1][/lang]

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