As the diet pill Meridia leaves the market, a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that weight loss programs utilizing calorie restriction and exercise can actually cut the fat. Cheryl Rock, Ph.D., and colleagues tested the efficacy of the Jenny Craig program by dividing 442 women into three groups: a center-based commercial weight loss intervention, telephone-based participation with the same meal program, and a “usual care” group involving dietary consultation, an education session, and monthly check-ins via phone or email for comparison. The two intervention groups were supplied their meals for free. After 24 months, the women participating in the center- and phone-based programs lost significantly more weight than those in the comparison group (16 and 14 pounds versus 4.5 pounds, respectively). Dr. Rock believes that the Jenny Craig programs work because they teach members new behaviors that lead to healthy lifestyle changes and suggests that they should be provided for free as a “worthwhile health care investment.”
While ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees that diet and exercise can lead to weight loss, he wonders if this study offers anything new. “It shows that if you provide three healthful, balanced meals under study conditions at no cost — people will lose weight. Can this be extrapolated to the general public? I don’t think so,” he says.
Meanwhile, ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan questions the feasibility of providing these programs for free. “What about women who also have to feed families? How would this work in real life? This would be quite an expensive endeavor.”