Why might this be? With a million members, a renowned method and increasingly overweight populations, the potential for growth should be substantial. Analysts point to a new trend: smartphone apps. If you can save on a membership subscription while benefitting from motivation and monitoring through your phone, then why make the choice for a weekly class?
On the upside, the UK’s National Health Service has agreed to allow its doctors to prescribe membership to Slimming World, Rosemary Conley and Weight Watchers. Research has shown that they are more effective at helping people lose weight than expensive dedicated primary care programmes.
Critics suggest that these companies focus too much on diet, with inadequate encouragement to exercise. Plus there is the assumption that long-term patterns can be effectively changed by short-term programmes. Alcoholics Anonymous would say that abstinence support is a lifetime’s work. No less is true for a healthy lifestyle.
Perhaps the critics are only saying that more is better. The key value these companies bring is in gathering people week by week to provide peer support and motivation for better health. Smartphone apps may have a part to play. Drugs and surgery can be used in extremis. But only peer support can provide the bedrock of long-term change.
Though not without their weaknesses, there is much that the large weight loss companies can teach us about what is important in the pursuit of health. May they prosper.
For some more in-depth thinking about the potential of small groups and collective behaviour, check out the following: