Science notes: Weighing the better diet plan

  • October 13, 2012 - 4:16 PM


In a head-to-head contest pitting a pair of psychologist-led "behavioral weight loss" programs against a 48-week membership to Weight Watchers, a study found that Weight Watchers participants stuck with their regimen longer and shed more pounds.

Compared to people who met regularly with a professional counselor, those assigned to Weight Watchers were more likely to lose at least 10 percent of their body weight by the 48-week mark. On this measure, Weight Watchers also bested a hybrid program that researchers at Baruch College in New York City had expected to be the most effective -- a 12-week introductory course led by a clinical psychologist to jump start subjects' weight loss, followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers. The study of 141 people, published in the journal Obesity, suggests that physicians scrambling for ways to counsel overweight patients may be best served by referring them to well-established commercial programs.



Obesity treatments, life-saving antibiotics and other drugs deemed to offer societal benefit despite their risks may get speedier U.S. approvals under plans being discussed to better balance innovation and safety.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told scientific advisers the agency is considering letting makers of such treatments conduct faster clinical trials with a smaller group of patients than now required. A "special medical use" label could be used, allowing doctors to administer the drugs to patients in most dire need, she said.

Details -- such as how much evidence would be required -- are still being worked out, said Allan Coukell, deputy director of medical programs for the Pew Health Group.



Scientists have selected three types of Alzheimer's drugs to be tested in the first large-scale international attempt to prevent the disease in people who are otherwise doomed to get it.

It is one of three studies with the same goal that will start early next year. This one involves 160 people from the United States, Britain and Australia with a variety of gene mutations that cause Alzheimer's with certainty. Most of the test subjects will have no symptoms yet of the degenerative disease that ravages the brain, destroying memory and thought. But they would be expected to start showing signs of problems with memory and thinking within five years unless the drugs work.

Another study starting next year involves an extended family in Colombia that shares the same mutation. Anyone who inherits that mutated gene get Alzheimer's disease. A third study will involve people in the United States 70 and older who seem healthy and who do not have any known Alzheimer's mutations but in whom, brain scans show, the disease is starting to manifest itself.

Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association, said the results would come quickly. Within a few years, as researchers compare the three approaches to stopping the disease, they should know which drug, if any, is going to work. The association contributed $4.2 million to the study, Carrillo said.


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