Childhood Obesity = Big Bucks, Part 2

Putting your spending on a diet
Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned an article by Karen Canella, titled “Three Ways to Profit From a Super-Sized Trend,” in which she advised readers:

In 2012, consumers spent $5 billion on Weight Watchers’ branded products and services… From fiscal 2008 to 2012, revenue compounded at an annual growth rate of 4.4% and shareholder equity rose 30%.

Earlier this year, British television’s Channel 4 presented a show which Sue Thomason reviewed for The Huffington Post, and felt that the information in it did not go far enough toward exposing the unrealistic expectations and misleading advertising behind Weight Watchers.

First, she acknowledges the facts spotlighted by the script. Over the previous five-year period, Britain’s National Health Service had spent £4 million to enroll overweight and obese citizens in Weight Watchers. Members (or the government, on their behalf) spent an average of £100 (or $150) per pound of weight loss. (Actually, in the United States, estimates go as high as $208 for every pound of weight shed.)

It has long been assumed that the ingestion of 3,500 calories will result in an additional one pound of body weight, but Zoe Harcombe and others have challenged that figure. Still, for the purpose of this example, let’s pretend the number is at least somewhere in the ballpark. A McDonald’s customer can get a nice 3,500-calorie meal (consisting of three Quarter Pounders, large fries, medium vanilla shake, and two apple pies) for well under $20. Less than $20 to gain a pound; $150 or $200 to lose it. As the saying goes, “You do the math.”

The company is very cagey about releasing information on its program’s sustainability. Thomason reports:

While many Weight Watchers dieters lost weight within the first three months, ‘some’ had put it back on again after five years (while the amount of people who regained the weight was kept vague, when Jane Moore asked a group of around 100 dieters to hold up green cards if they had kept the weight off, only about three people responded).

She then refers readers to a rigorous study which found that people who participate in diet programs, including Weight Watchers, strongly tend to gain back whatever weight they lost while on the program, plus more. The TV show that Thomason criticized was called “Weight Watchers, How They Make Their Millions,” and she also has something to say about how they spend their profits, citing:

[…] the financial hold that big diet companies have over the Government, the health service, obesity research and the media. Weight Watchers money is used to influence and manipulate on a truly massive scale and even Government health advisors on obesity receive their cash.

Then she references news stories about obesity policy consultants in Britain who are a little too cozy with the corporations that rake in cash from the epidemic. And on what else does Weight Watchers spend their corporate millions? In California, Heinz, which owns Weight Watchers, reportedly donated $500,000 to the defeat of Proposition 37, which would have required the clear labeling of GMO products. The role that genetically modified crops play in the obesity epidemic has not been sufficiently researched or clearly delineated, but is highly suspect in some quarters.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Three Ways to Profit From a Super-Sized Trend,” MarketsAndProfit.com, 07/13
Source: “Channel 4’s Dispatches Went Easy on Weight Watchers….,” The Huffington Post (UK), 01/29/13
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