Commercial and Self-Help
Weight Loss Programs
LESLIE G. WOMBLE
THOMAS A. WADDEN
Obese individuals often turn to commercial or self-help programs to lose weight. These programs serve many more people than do university and hospital clinics. Despite the high demand for commercial and self-help programs, there was little supervision of this industry until the 1990s. This chapter briefly describes commercial nonmedical programs, medically based proprietary interventions, self-help approaches, and web-based programs. It concludes with a discussion of research needs in this area and likely trends in the field.
In 1990, Congressman Ron Wyden initiated hearings on the misleading and deceptive advertising practices of the commercial weight loss industry. He revealed that few, if any, data support claims that clients can lose all the weight they wanted and keep it off forever. In response to the hearings, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped up monitoring of these programs. Companies agreed to stop airing questionable ads. They were required to support claims of long-term weight loss with data and to provide a disclaimer that the results reported in testimonials might not be typical.
In 1997, the FTC assembled a panel of academics, industry providers, consumer advocates, and government officials to explore the creation of voluntary guidelines for the disclosure of information concerning weight loss programs. The panel established the Partnership for Healthy Weight Management. Commercial weight loss organizations who join this partnership agree to provide consumers with information to help them