Diet Smackdown Pits Valerie Bertinelli Against Weight Watchers

Last Updated Jan 20, 2010 8:14 PM EST

Weight Watchers, the nation's biggest diet franchise, won a temporary restraining order against rival Jenny Craig this afternoon, after the company contended that those ubiquitous weight loss advertisements featuring actress Valerie Bertinelli in a lab coat claiming that scientific research shows that Jenny is "more effective than the largest weight loss program" are false and misleading.

"We are extremely pleased with this outcome," said Weight Watcher's president David Kirchhoff. "The swiftness and strength of this ruling supports our assertion that Jenny Craig is making false and unsupported advertising claims.

The diet debate started yesterday when Weight Watcher's sued its rival, claiming that the new advertisements contained thinly veiled comparisons to Weight Watchers, which were completely unfair. The ads said that "clinical studies" showed that Jenny allowed customers to lose twice as much as "the largest weight loss program" and Jenny ran those advertisements on its web site and run everywhere that diet conscious women might go--E!, Lifetime, Dish, Hallmark, Oxygen, Slueth, Style (well, you get the message).

But the clinical trials they were talking about compared 10-year-old Weight Watcher's research against new research about Jenny Craig to come up with this unsubstantiated claim, Weight Watchers contended in its suit. Real research would pit Weight Watchers clients against Jenny Craig clients to see who lost more weight, the suit said. Instead both of the studies cited on Jenny's web site (to substantiate the advertisement) show results of the diet plans compared to people who just dieted on their own.

Hardly a scientific clinical trial, which makes Bertinelli, who claims in the advertisement that these results were supported by "a major clinical trial," a "big fat liar" according to the New York Post. Weight Watchers claimed this comparison is particularly unfair because Jenny used 10-year-old data for them, which doesn't account for the substantial changes and improvements they've made to the program over the past decade, according to the suit.

There's big money to be had in diet programs--particularly now when Americans are focused on New Year's resolutions, which frequently involve dropping a few pounds, the suit says. A recent MoneyWatch analysis showed that Weight Watchers is the most economical of the commercial diet plans, costing roughly $6 to $10 per pound lost versus Jenny's far more expensive $54 to $106 cost per pound lost. Some of the plans could clearly bankrupt anyone who had more than a few pounds to lose. Judging from the story's comments Weight Watchers is way more popular than Jenny--but that's not a scientific comparison either.

Of course, there are plenty of free weight loss programs too, including Overeater's Anonymous, Spark People.com and PurpleWeightLoss.com (Caution on Purple for those who have forgotten math conversions: They ask you to enter your height and weight in meters and kilograms. Seriously, I've no idea.) There's also my grandmother's solution: Eat slowly and stop eating when you're satisfied, not when you're full.

Weight Watchers has apparently won round one, getting a restraining order that will require Jenny Craig to pull the offending advertisements. But the suit isn't likely over. A spokesperson for Jenny Craig, which is owned by Nestle, failed to return my calls before press time. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, does anybody else find it ironic that Jenny Craig is owned by Nestle, the makers of Nesquik, Smarties and KitKat bars? Call me cynical, but I figure these guys have got you either way.

More on MoneyWatch
Diet Plan Review: The Best Way to Lose Weight
Can't Keep Resolutions? It's Not Your Fault. It's Your Friends

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