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Are Weight Loss “Counselors” Obsolete?

Do dieters really need or want weight loss "counselors" (coaches, consultants, group leaders) today? That's a question we at Marketdata have been pondering lately. All the evidence seems to support the theory that weight loss counselors in general are not adequately trained to serve client needs, they are underpaid, they have high turnover and frequently, no career path, and dieters don't want to pay extra for their services.

We seem to be moving toward to more anonymous model in the diet market, shifting away from the high overhead brick & mortar weight loss center where the client meets with a diet coach once or several times per week.

Consider these facts:

1. NutriSystem provides FREE counseling as part of its program, yet management says that only 20% of their customers use this service.

2. The Jenny Direct service (food shipped to your home, no in-person counselor meeting) is the fastest-growing part of their business.

3. LA Weight Loss Centers was one of the largest commercial chains with 800+ centers, and it went bankrupt and closed all of them. Consumer complaints about high pressure and deceptive sales practices to buy company supplements brought the company down.

4. Weight Watchers is currently facing a rebellion of group leaders over low pay.

5. Most "counselors" have little or no training or background in nutrition, exercise physiology, or the psychological issues facing dieters. Rather, most are trained mainly in SALES and meeting quotas.

6. NutriSystem abandoned the brick & mortar model long ago.

7. The fastest-growing part of Weight Watchers (20%+ growth/year the past 4-5 years) has been WeightWatchers.com, which now generates $504 million in revenues - nearly 28% of their total. This is an anonymous model, especially favored by male dieters. North American meeting attendance was down significantly in 2012.

8. Commercial weight loss centers are used by 9% of U.S. dieters today, vs. 14-15% in the early 1990s.

9. Few commercial weight loss companies today are selling franchises.

10. Data from visitors to Marketdata's weight loss portal BestDietForMe.com reveal that the "preferred location of a weight loss program" were as follows in 2005 and 2012:

weight loss center: 26.6% preferred in 2005, 10.3% in 2012

In addition, the preferred counseling format percentages changed from 2005 to 2012 as follows:

self-directed: 60% in 2005, 81.6% in 2012
one-to-one: 26.9% in 2005, 13.0% in 2012
small group: 12.5% in 2005, 5.1% in 2012
large group: 0.5% in 2005, 0.2% in 2012.

Herein lies the disconnect.... Also according to BestDietForMe.com's 10-year data - 75% of dieters need emotional eating support and 57% need stimulus control support. So, if they're NOT getting it from weight loss counselors, who do they get it from? Their doctors? Not likely. Most MDs' schedules are packed and they have little time for meaningful discussions about weight, nutrition, etc. And they are afraid that they'll offend their patients.

Need we say more? Maybe it's time to re-think the whole concept of counseling. Most dieters don't seem to want it at all, or don't want to pay extra for it. They'd rather just get the food and do the exercise themselves. Maybe diet companies should just scrap counseling altogether, and lower program prices, because it just doesn't seem to be working. It would probably significantly improve diet companies' bottom line, profits, since they would no longer need to recruit and train coaches, pay them salary & benefits, motivate them to stay/train them in-house, etc.

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