WeightWatchers, a stalwart in the field of weight management, is set to revolutionize the way we approach obesity with its groundbreaking GLP-1 program. This strategic move aligns with the potential of GLP-1 agonists in weight loss, underscored by the recent FDA approval of Zepbound for obesity treatment. Recognizing the efficacy of these medications alongside diet and exercise, WeightWatchers doubles down on its commitment to being a leader in weight health through science and community support.
Dr. Gary Foster, chief science officer at WeightWatchers says the organization finds science, especially in this category, to be very important. “The reason we’ve been around for 60 years is because we’ve stuck to the science over all that time. We’re really proud of that heritage and want to continue to do that,” he says.
GLP-1s: Changing the Obesity Treatment Narrative
The seismic shift in obesity treatment, propelled by these medications like Wegovy (Semaglutide) and Zepbound (Tirzepatide), has opened up new possibilities. Dr. Foster highlighted the positive impact of GLP-1s, emphasizing their role as another valuable tool in the weight management toolbox. However, he acknowledged the unfortunate double stigma associated with their use, asserting that it’s time to change the narrative. “We’re really trying to change societal narrative about this topic without it being polarizing. If you want to do something about your weight, to help your health and quality of life, great, if you don’t, that’s fine, too. We really think that autonomy and personal choice is pivotal.”
WeightWatchers’ approach to innovation involves a meticulous process of combining scientific insights with member feedback. The organization engaged directly with individuals using GLP-1s, discovering key themes that helped to develop the program. “Recent data published by Kaiser in June or July of this year showed that most people aren’t staying on for even a year, whether due to insurance constraints or self selection. They’re saying look, ‘I’m not really thinking down the road about whether I’m gonna be on these meds in a year or not. What I’m thinking about right now is getting on the meds, losing some weight, losing it the safe way, but I need WeightWatchers to help me develop healthy habits so that I can help sustain those habits in the long term.”
Michelle Cardel, senior director and head of global clinical research and nutrition, stated, “GLP-1s were considered life-changing, with a universal phenomenon— the disappearance of food-related noise. This insight laid the foundation for our new program, addressing three key concerns: nutrient-dense dietary support, developing healthy habits and connecting with trained coaches and supportive communities.”
The Science Behind the Program
The GLP-1 program aims to support users in their weight loss journey while considering the unique challenges posed by GLP-1 medications. Cardel says the program helps focus on managing external factors, such as cravings and stress, optimizing nutrition and maximizing well-being. “With GLP-1 medications reducing appetite significantly, we’re not just aiming for a calorie deficit anymore; it’s about nutritional adequacy and optimization. It emphasizes daily protein targets, fruits and vegetables, hydration and physical activity,” explained Cardel.
Members using the GLP-1 program will track three daily nutrition targets and complete the rings— protein, fruits and vegetables and water intake–through the WeightWatchers app. The personalized protein target adapts as members lose weight, ensuring a gradual approach to the recommended daily intake.
Cardel highlights the importance of focusing on water targets due to the potential muted signals caused by GLP-1 medications. ”We’re having members focus on a water target hydration as it’s even more critical for those on a GLP-1 medication because those medications can slow down the movement of food in your digestive tract. Given the overall benefits of physical activity and the importance of activity for retaining lean mass during rapid weight loss, such as that observed with these medications, we also created two rings around daily activity targets.”
Empowering Members for Sustainable Success
Weight Watchers envisions the GLP-1 program as a paradigm shift in behavioral intervention, providing science-based solutions tailored to the unique challenges faced by GLP-1 users. The program not only guides members toward weight loss but also aims to foster habits that promote long-term well-being.
Cardel added, “We’re reimagining behavioral interventions for the GLP-1 era. Our program is designed to help members navigate their weight loss journey with confidence, supported by science, sensible targets and a judgment-free digital community.”
WeightWatchers Clinic to Prescribe GLP-1s
In a strategic move to diversify its offerings, Weight Watchers made a pivotal acquisition in March by incorporating the telehealth platform, Sequence. This acquisition foreshadowed the potential for Weight Watchers to delve into prescription weight loss drugs and telehealth services for clinical weight management. Fast forward to today and the vision has become a reality with the introduction of Weight Watchers Clinic. The platform now facilitates the seamless prescription of weight loss medications, particularly GLP-1, as part of Weight Watchers’ commitment to extending beyond conventional methods.
Dr. Foster shared, “Our telehealth platform enables individuals to effortlessly access prescriptions for GLP-1 medications.” By integrating the GLP-1 program with WW Clinic, WeightWatchers is pioneering a comprehensive and convenient approach, allowing members to receive personalized guidance, medical supervision and prescriptions from the comfort of their homes, ushering in a new era of holistic and accessible weight management.