In the battle of the bulge, it turns out you've got to pay more to lose more.
A recent study has found that the most expensive diet also produced the largest drop in pounds—but was also among the least cost-effective.
"These results will help [employers and third-party payers] make better purchasing decisions to maximize the health gains using available resources," said Eric Finkelstein, professor at Duke-NUS and the Duke University Global Health Institute, and author of the study.
Finkelstein and his colleagues mined data from various studies focusing on the efficacy of six different weight-loss methods: three diet/lifestyle programs and three medications. They then factored in how much each costs its users, and crunched the numbers to come up with a cost-per-pound figure that illustrated how efficient they were, at least from a financial standpoint.
The diet plan that offered the most to lose (in more ways than one) was Jenny Craig, in which users lost an average of 16.3 pounds a year, but paid a whopping $2,500 to $3,500 per year. (Since the Jenny Craig diet requires participants to buy specially branded meals, which make up the bulk of the cost, the researchers accounted for the fact that they'd be buying fewer meals on their own; but it was still the priciest.) That broke down to $153.31 per pound lost.
But there is hope for cost-conscious dieters, Finkelstein found.
People who took the drug Qsymia lost nearly as much as Jenny Craig dieters—14.8 pounds—but only had to shell out $1,336 annually, or about $105.23 per pound. Weight Watchers dieters lost only 5.3 pounds, but also only paid a nominal $515 annual subscription that the researchers adjusted to $377 a year after calculating factors such as dropouts and payment plans. That amounted to a penny-pinching $71.13 per pound.
The least cost-effective weight-loss strategies were the drugs Orlistat ($247.66 per pound) and Lorcaserin ($247.21 per pound). People who took the former lost an average of 6.2 pounds, while those on the latter lost an average of 7.1 pounds. The Vtrim diet came in at $96.62 per pound, with dieters also losing an average of 7.1 pounds.
There are obvious ramifications for public health programs: Finkelstein argued that because obese people require costlier health care and live shorter and unhealthier lives, the people in charge of health policy should be willing to fund weight-loss programs that have been proven to be cost-effective.
"Although containing rising rates of obesity is a public health imperative, employers and third-party payers remain hesitant to sink big money into commercial weight-loss strategies," Finkelstein said.
But, he added, they respond to "good value for money."