Weighing Mass-Market Diet Programs' Costs

It's estimated that a-third of Americans made a New Year's resolution to lose weight, and that can mean big business for mass-market diet programs.

On "The Early Show" Friday, financial contributor Vera Gibbons had the skinny on the costs of the four biggest -- Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Atkins and the South Beach Diet.

Adding a wrinkle this year is the recession: It's been very tough on the average American, and many may be seeking solace in high-fat comfort foods.

Many people find that, in order to diet, they need some support or want to join a diet group, and dieting programs can cost money, with mass-market programs running as much as $5,000 to $10,000 a year between the food, counseling, fitness gear, DVDs and calorie counters.

Unfortunately, research shows that 95 percent of those who lose weight, gain it back within three years. Beyond the three years, the fail rate is even worse. So that means if you spend $10,000 to lose weight this year and you lose 50 pounds only to gain it back, you're not only out $10,000, but at an average cost of $85 a pound, you're out an additional $4,250.

WEIGHT WATCHERS

Claim: Lose Up to 8 lbs/month
Typical Cost/month: $716
Working out to a Cost per Pound of $90
Weight Watchers is the industry leader. It is considered to be the AA for overeaters and food addicts. The program encourages sensible diet and behavioral changes such as healthy foods with emphasis on portion control, support, exercise and attitude. It's easy to follow. You get a sense of what makes you feel full and what's high in nutrients. The average cost of the program for a month is $716 which is reasonable for a commercial diet program. This includes food, weekly group meetings, access to the Weight Watchers website. That averages out to about $90 a pound.

NUTRISYSTEM

Claim: Lose Up to 8 lbs/month
Typical Cost/month: $529
Working out to a Cost per Pound of $66
This is a different type of program altogether. You choose from various types of pre-packaged portion controlled meals. There are over 160 foods to choose from, some available at a 15% discount if you buy from Walmart or Costco. There is no counting calories, counting carbs, or points. Also, there is unlimited phone counseling for Nutrisystem. There is also no cooking, and the food is delivered directly to your door. The average cost per month is $529 and based on losing about 8 pounds a month that makes $66 a pound. That makes it one of the most affordable, a big draw in a down economy.

ATKINS

Claims: Up to 21 pounds first month; Up to 12 pounds/mo after that
Typical Cost/month $948
Working out to Costs per Pound of Cost per pound: $45/first mo and $79/mo after

SOUTH BEACH DIET

Claims: Up to 17 pounds first month; Up to 8 pounds/mo after that
Typical Cost/month $818
Working out to Costs per Pound: $48/first mo; $102/mo after
These two diets have the highest monthly costs, about $1000 each. That's because you are loading up on pricey proteins. But, notice that these are some of the lowest costs per pound, particularly in the first 2 weeks, which is an induction period! That means that there is a strict ban on certain foods, so that brings that first month cost down to under $50 a pound for both programs. The months after that the costs go up because you are losing about half as much weight as the induction period. On Atkins you are looking at $79 a pound, which allows you to eat butter, eggs and bacon. On South Beach, which puts great emphasis on "good fats" your average cost is going to be $102 a pound.

EDITOR's NOTE: People can select a Monthly Pass payment option (includes meetings and access to Weight Watchers eTools, the internet weight loss companion to meetings) which costs $39.95/month ($9.22/wk on average) or they can subscribe to Weight Watchers Online which costs $65.00 ($5.00/wk on average). Members can expect to lose up to one to two pounds a week if they follow the program. In addition, the Weight Watchers products that were shown on the show are just a sampling of what is offered but were not meant to imply that you must eat these products to follow the program. With Weight Watchers, you can eat any foods. Therefore costs may vary.

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