Dieting success: Top performers provide more positive support than peers

June 23, 2020

CATONSVILLE, MD, June 23, 2020 - The weight loss industry in the United States is vast and generates about $20 billion each year from over 100 million dieters. Commercial weight loss programs design customer-focused program policies to shape and optimize satisfaction and development. These two metrics are tied to how well a program does and the success of the customers in that program. New research in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science finds one key to success is making sure you have the right role model for dieters.

There are plenty of dieters given the rates of obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity is 40% among young adults ages 20-39 years, 45% among middle-aged adults 40-59 years old, and 43% among adults age 60 and older.

The study, "Inspiration from the 'Biggest Loser': Social Interactions in a Weight Loss Program," conducted by Kosuke Uetake of Yale University and Nathan Yang of McGill University, finds weight loss among average-performing peers has a negative effect on an individual's weight loss, while the weight loss of the top performer among peers is positive.

The study looks at a weight loss database that tracks individual participants' meeting attendance and progress in a large national weight loss program.

"Not all peers are alike, and thus, each peer's impact on others within the group can't be the same. Social support from peers plays an important role in weight loss. We investigate the impact that peer weight loss has on an individual's weight loss success," said Uetake, a professor in the Yale School of Management.

The results show that the average weight loss among peers has a negative effect on an individual's own future weight loss. While in contrast, weight loss of the top performer has a positive effect on an individual's own future weight loss.

"These findings should impact how weight loss program employees should promote the past successes of their participants. The successes among average participants may act as a discouraging benchmark that roughly one-half of the participants will fail to reach, whereas the successes among top performers may act as an encouraging target that does not alienate as many of the participants," continued Uetake.

This work looks to implement policy changes to help dieters reach their goals. One way the study suggests doing that is by using the weight loss successes of top performers to provide inspiration to the group and perhaps avoid using the overall group's success as the benchmark.
About INFORMS and Marketing Science

Marketing Science is a premier peer-reviewed scholarly marketing journal focused on research using quantitative approaches to study all aspects of the interface between consumers and firms. It is published by INFORMS, the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. More information is available at or @informs.

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

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