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Weight Watchers® for Diabetes: A Custom Approach

How the program customizes help for those living with T2

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

Colin Watts of Weight WatchersColin Watts

Jan Veliko of Weight WatchersJan Veliko

In putting together our blog posts, many people I talk to struggle with weight loss and making dietary changes. I can relate to the challenge of weight loss – I have faced that hurdle myself multiple times. One thing that has helped me in the past is Weight Watchers®. I really appreciate the freedom and flexibility its program offers. I know that Susan Ito was also pleased with her experience with Weight Watchers – so much so, that she became a leader.

Recently I was intrigued to hear that Weight Watchers has introduced a program tailored specifically for those living with type 2 diabetes. To learn more about this new offering, I turned to Colin Watts, President, Weight Watchers Health Solutions, and Jan Veliko, RN, CDE*, Clinical Director, Weight Watchers for Diabetes.

Q: How did the Weight Watchers for Diabetes program come about?

Colin: It’s been several years in the making. We have gotten a lot of requests, both from consumers as well as from employer clients in our Health Solutions division, about how to link issues of weight loss into issues around diabetes, given some of the challenges people may experience when managing diabetes. We recognized that we had not done a particularly good job of explaining how to customize the Weight Watchers program for somebody living with type 2 diabetes.

Jan and other members in our product development team looked at the strength of the Weight Watchers core program, and then identified those pieces that we could adapt to tailor the program for somebody living with type 2 diabetes.

It’s not designed to be a comprehensive diabetes management program. We are very interested in making sure that the Weight Watchers for Diabetes program is part of the care continuum. We want it to work well with what a physician or endocrinologist may be advising the person living with diabetes. We are really focused on the weight management aspect. We designed a program that would adhere to good nutrition, activity management and lifestyle behavior changes to help people living with type 2 diabetes. We wanted to design it to really build into somebody’s lifestyle.

Jan: According to the CDC, losing five percent of your body weight may positively impact your health overall. We believe that Weight Watchers is an effective weight loss and lifestyle management program. So we looked at what help somebody living with type 2 diabetes might need and worked with our Chief Scientific Officer to brainstorm what was missing. We came up with the Certified Diabetes Educator® (CDE®)/RD role within the Diabetes program to help bridge that gap and help people use our program.

Q: What does the program entail?

Colin: The program is available only through employers that contract with Weight Watchers Health Solutions for the Weight Watchers Monthly Pass offering. Once a member living with type 2 diabetes enrolls through their employer, they are assigned a CDE who has been trained on the Weight Watchers program. That CDE will start a conversation to help the CDE understand what that person may have been struggling with in terms of their weight and overall with their diabetes.

Jan: The CDE then takes the basic components of medical nutrition therapy and converts it into a PointsPlus® program, based on the Weight Watchers weight loss program. They work with that member around their habits, their needs related to their medications, when they usually eat and their activity, and work out an individualized plan for that person.

In addition to that, we translate our weekly meeting room topics to be relatable for people living with type 2 diabetes. Those go out to all our Diabetes program members via email.

Colin: The member always has unlimited options to go back to their CDE to get additional support by telephone or email.

Then the key really is that they also get to participate in the regular Weight Watchers program, with the opportunity for peer-to-peer support and help of the leader in meetings, whether in their local communities or at their workplace. We don’t have a separate meeting for people living with diabetes. We want them to enjoy the support of the community. We’ve seen that that’s very important to getting a high degree of engagement.

Q: I read that the program was tested in various locations before it was launched. What were some of the important insights gained during your studies?

Jan: One of the things that became apparent was how important the relationship between the CDE and the member was. Everybody’s diabetes is different, and everybody’s at a different point, and I think members felt very comfortable knowing that there was somebody there who had an understanding of the disease to help. We also saw a good number of people who had never joined Weight Watchers, join this program.

Colin: Our surveys revealed a high level of member satisfaction; the people who came through the program felt that it was quite transformational. Many of them have lived with diabetes for several years. They had tried a lot of different ways to get at their issues of weight. The fact that we were able to try to help make a difference in their lives felt very gratifying, and I believe speaks to the power of the program.

Q: You mentioned work site meetings. I personally had a good experience with those and appreciated the camaraderie with my work colleagues. But do you ever see issues with people who are hesitant to discuss more personal issues in a professional setting?

Colin: There’s no question some folks feel more comfortable doing Weight Watchers separate from the work site. It’s one of the reasons why we introduced the Monthly Pass, which allows the employee to take advantage of Weight Watchers wherever they feel most comfortable. If they’re interested in the convenience and camaraderie of doing the program at the work site, we can bring it there. But as a Monthly Pass member, they can also go to meetings in their own community, near their home. It may be more convenient to do it on a weekend or a week night. The Monthly Pass also allows access to all of our eTools and online capabilities.

Q: What is the process of starting the program at a company?

Colin: If someone is interested in getting Weight Watchers for Diabetes as a benefit option through their employer, we’d encourage them to let their HR folks know that it’s something they would be interested in. Company representatives can call 1-800-8-ATWORK or visit www.weightwatchers.com/Diabetes for more information. Once we are aware of interest within a company, we will send out the Weight Watchers Health Solutions account management team to help to adapt the program for that client’s setting.

I truly applaud Weight Watchers for evolving their program offerings to better serve those living with diabetes. I can personally vouch for the value of their meetings; I found it so helpful to share experiences with others facing similar challenges and to troubleshoot and collaborate on strategies. My sincere thanks to Colin and Jan for providing their insight on this exciting new program.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosures: Colin Watts and Jan Veliko received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

Weight Watchers and PointsPlus are registered service marks of Weight Watchers International, Inc.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

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