Key to Weight Watchers' Success: It Doesn't Work

Repeat customers are why Oprah's investment is 'brilliant,' writes psychologist
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2015 11:19 AM CDT
Key to Weight Watchers' Success: It Doesn't Work
Oprah Winfrey makes a guest appearance on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Oct. 15.   (John Paul Filo/CBS via AP)

Oprah Winfrey's decision to buy a big stake in Weigh Watchers is a "brilliant" business move on Winfrey's part, but not perhaps for the reason she thinks, writes psychology professor Traci Mann at New York. Yes, Weight Watchers seems like a proven success at first blush because studies make clear that it does, in fact, help people lose weight. The catch is that most regain it within five years. While that may be unfortunate for members, it's great for company shareholders because it makes Weight Watchers the "perfect business model," writes Mann. It's got a built-in supply of repeat customers who give the program credit when they drop pounds but assign the blame to themselves when they pile those pounds back on.

"This sets them up to join Weight Watchers all over again, and they do." In fact, Mann cites a company business plan to this effect from 2001: Members have "demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrollment over a number of years," it boasts. On average, they signed up four different times. The problem isn't exclusive to Weight Watchers but applies to dieting in general for a host of reasons both physiological and neurological, writes Mann. "Until people understand this, Weight Watchers will continue to create repeat customers instead of successful dieters, and Oprah will get an impressive return on her investment." Click for her full post. (More Oprah Winfrey stories.)

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