“I was looking for an easy fix to my weight problem, but these ended up all being a huge waste of money,” says Beckner, a human resources administrator in Weirton, W.Va.
“By the time I was 33, I got pregnant again, and was on bed-rest for four months, and my weight ended up shooting up to 215 pounds,” Beckner says.
She tried to use the Atkins diet to help shed the extra pounds, but she ended up only losing ten pounds and gaining it immediately back once she went off the regimen.
"I also tried Jillian Michaels’ Quickstart Weight Loss twice," she said. "Tt worked the first time, but I gained the weight back, and then I failed to see the same results the second time I did it."
Beckner is not alone. Two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese, and nearly this many adults report that they have attempted to lose weight.
Beckner experienced what new research led by Johns Hopkins researchers found: only a few weight-loss programs appeared to work. Looking at randomized controlled trials at 12 months, Jenny Craig participants had a minimum of at least a 4.9% greater weight loss than those who received education and counseling. Weight Watchers clients had at least a 2.6% greater weight loss compared with the control group, who underwent education. The Atkins diet participants had as high as a 2.9% greater weight loss and as low as 0.1% greater than dieters who underwent counseling but who were not on the diet. Nutrisystem participants had at least a 3.8% rate greater weight loss compared with the control group, who received education and counseling, but those results were at three months into the program.
Consumers on extremely low calorie weight loss programs -- Medifast, OPTIFAST, and Health Management Resources -- initially showed at least a 4% greater short term weight loss compared with counseling, but there was some attenuation after six months and higher risk of medical complications, such as gallstones, according to the study’s authors. Study results were mixed for SlimFast. Studies on Internet-based Biggest Loser Club, Lose It!, and eDiets were also included but were inconclusive.
The researchers also found that commercial weight loss programs that require consumers to purchase meals cost between $570 per month and $682 per month. Web-based weight-loss apps were free.
Beckner estimates that she has spent nearly $1,000 on dieting.
There can be other costs associated with being excessively overweight, as well.
“You can be the most qualified professional at work, but obesity can cost you a raise,” says Dr. Eleazar Kadile, who specializes in treating patients with obesity. Eating more also increases spending on food and clothing, Kadile says. “The biggest cost, however, is healthcare due to bad health," he added. "Obesity has severely taxed our country’s health care costs.”
There's good news on that front. Individuals covered by health insurance from the federal health insurance exchange, as well as some Medicaid recipients, are covered for obesity screening and counseling, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
As for Beckner, she has been losing pounds and saving money. In October 2013, she turned to the Internet-based weight-loss program, Lose It! So far, she has lost 75 pounds and kept them off. And perhaps it is a long-term dieter that has gained the most insight into why expensive diet programs fail: as soon as you stop, you’re off the diet, Beckner says. Plus, diets are expensive, she says.
—Written by S.Z. Berg for MainStreet