One of the first to make a splash was Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
After a long struggle with her waistline, Ferguson took off pounds using the Weight Watchers program, and she is now a spokeswoman for the group.
"I feel great. I've got more energy. I'm physically fit. I'm a better mother. I'm just feeling the best I've ever felt. People say, you're 44. And I go, terrific, even better," Ferguson tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler.
But it was not always that way. She has struggled with her weight since childhood. She says, "I was totally in denial from the age of 12. I had completely suffocated my feelings.
"My mother left when I was 12 to live in Argentina. Instead of telling her: I'm sad, angry, miserable, why did she do it? Why did she go? I turned to food. Every time I felt bad, I ate. From then on, I tried every quick-fix diet, low-carb diet, you have, you named it. I did meat and oranges for 28 days, five cups of liquid a day."
She then turned to Weight Watchers for help and eight years later she has lost 50 pounds. But even back then, she says, she was in denial. She says, "I said, I'm fine. I'm fine. I don't need to join Weight Watchers. I don't need to diet. I'll be the spokesperson, that's fine. But I'm really OK. I was the classic person who should have gone to Weight Watchers. They said, 'Do the program.' So I had to do the program and I've done it for eight years. And it saved my life."
The Duchess reached her goal weight in December 1997 and is currently a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member. She is maintaining her weight on the "Winning Points" program. Long gone is the woman the British tabloids called "The Duchess of Pork."
Recalling those days, she says, "I didn't sustain it. I admitted defeat. That's the first step in getting back on healing yourself. I can't do it on my own. I need help and support. That's why, luckily, I was working for a company that gave it to me.
"Weight Watchers has a system called Tools for Living. And it teaches you and helps you along the way with friendship and support and kindness to really understand why you're about to eat three bread rolls, five pizzas and four fat boy cakes. Why are you doing that? So they help you to understand it. So it's a long-term plan. It's a lifestyle plan. It's not about just looking good. The reason why I've maintained now for so long - I've been a Lifetime Member six years now, Rene. The reason why I've maintained so well is that I've understood some food that I eat will damage me and hurt me. So why would I do it to myself?"
So she continues to encourage others to lose weight and take care of their bodies. During the winter of 1998, Ferguson had a breast cancer scare that really drove home the importance of self-exams and preventive health measures for women. The lump she detected proved benign, but she went public with her experience because numerous studies have shown a link between adult weight gain and increased breast cancer risk.
She says, "You have to be very careful with life. Life is very precious. We can all go across the road and be run over today. This last second, this could be the last time you'll ever see me. The trick is to understand: Are we going to think food is just there for social occasions? Or are we really going to understand, if we don't get it right, we might not live? The American Cancer Society has said that people die from cancer. Thirty-five percent of them come from overweight leading to obesity. That means that now obesity is now the No. 1 killer in this country."
The American Cancer Society and Weight Watchers have teamed up for the Great American Weigh In. Ferguson explains, "It's going to be all over the country. You remember The Great American SmokeOut? It's going to be like that. We're trying to get everybody to understand we're not talking about vanity. Get your BMI tested, the body mass index. If your fat is OK, then you're doing well. If not, you need to lose the weight in order to survive."
In January of 2004, the Duchess participated in a briefing on urban obesity at Harlem Hospital in New York City. She will sponsor 20 Harlem residents in their desire to lose weight and attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings. Weight Watchers opened its first Harlem meetings in November of 2003.
She has written five books with Weight Watchers: "Energy Breakthrough" (Simon & Schuster 2002); "Reinventing Yourself" (Simon & Schuster 2001); "Win the Weight Game" (Simon & Schuster, 2000); "Dieting with The Duchess" (Simon & Schuster 1999); and "Dining with The Duchess," (Simon & Schuster 1998) which made the non-fiction bestseller lists of Publisher's Weekly and The Wall Street Journal, and the extended bestseller list of The New York Times.