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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12 Things You Might Not Know About Weight Watchers

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Though devices like the Fitbit have chewed into their market share, Weight Watchers remains a formidable presence in the $60 billion weight loss industry—so much so that Oprah Winfrey just purchased a 10 percent stake in the company. Unlike many fad diets and dubious supplements, there’s actual scientific evidence that says the program—which combines caloric control with social support—works. Take a look at these 12 facts about points, spokespeople, and the role of animal organs in a balanced diet.

1. THE FOUNDER WAS MISTAKEN FOR A PREGNANT WOMAN.

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When 37-year-old Queens housewife Jean Nidetch walked into a supermarket in 1962, she ran into a neighbor who complimented her on her appearance. Before Nidetch could thank her, the neighbor asked when she was due. Unsatisfied with both the social faux pas and her weight of 214 pounds, Nidetch decided to go on a diet and visited the New York Board of Health for advice. After cutting out soda and eating more protein, Nidetch lost 20 pounds in 10 weeks. To help stay motivated, she began meeting with friends to exchange stories about food temptations. One confessed to eating a donut out of a garbage can. A movement was born.

2. THE FIRST MEETINGS WERE HELD OVER A PIZZA PARLOR.

Once Nidetch (who eventually lost 70 pounds and kept it off) realized there was a demand for meetings beyond her circle of friends, she started Weight Watchers as an incorporated business in 1963. Those early meetings were held in an empty space over a New York pizza parlor; the owner was puzzled as to why there was a line of people outside who never stopped in for a slice.

3. THE ORIGINAL PLAN CALLED FOR LIVER AND BRAINS.

Weight Watchers spent its first decades endorsing a limited-quantities program, which didn’t count calories but restricted members to certain kinds of foods. “Group A” meats included organs like liver, brains, and kidneys, as well as white-meat turkey and chicken. The diet also welcomed frankfurters. It excluded bananas, avocados, and pancakes, however.

4. THEY USED TO BE OWNED BY HEINZ KETCHUP.

When you think of shedding pounds, you probably don’t think about slathering your meals in sugar-laden condiments. But when Nidetch’s meetings grew from neighborhood chats to public assemblies, it caught the attention of the H.J. Heinz company, the ketchup manufacturer. Heinz purchased Weight Watchers for $71 million in 1978; they sold the business off to a European investment firm in 1999, but maintained a small stake and still distribute frozen foods bearing the Weight Watchers brand.   

5. THEIR MAGAZINE WAS FOR “ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE.”

The Weight Watchers movement has bled into frozen foods, apps, and other licensed products, but one of their most enduring tie-ins has been Weight Watchers magazine. When the publication first appeared on newsstands in 1968, it presented simple food tips and lifestyle suggestions. In 1975, editors (including Matty Simmons, who would later found National Lampoon) added the subtitle Magazine For Attractive People.

6. THEY MESSED WITH SUCCESS. TWICE.

Weight Watchers had long been a program based on social support and dietary recommendations. It wasn’t until 1997, when the company debuted its “Points” system, that the brand became a cultural phenomenon. By assigning points to a large variety of store-bought and restaurant foods, program members regarded choices like a banana (now allowed) or cupcake as being worth a certain number of points. As long as they didn’t exceed their total allowance for the day, they’d lose weight. The revamped PointsPlus, introduced in 2010, recognized 200 calories of protein and 200 calories of baked goods were indeed different and shifted their numerical values accordingly.

7. NOT EVERYONE WAS HAPPY ABOUT THE CHANGE.

On then-CEO David Kirchhoff’s blog, posters complained that the new system upended their comfort level with what had come before. “I hate it,” one member wrote. “I hate learning the new points and losing all my foods that I’ve put in over the last three years. I’m completely annoyed that microwave popcorn is three points now!!!!”   

8. THE SERVICE MIGHT COST YOU $75 A POUND.

Judit Klein, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Duke-National University of Singapore did a little number-crunching in 2014 and discovered that, with an average of $377 in annual membership fees and roughly five pounds lost per year, Weight Watchers costs members about $75 for every disappearing pound. But it’s still a much cheaper alternative than Jenny Craig, which requests members buy the company's own food at a cost of roughly $2,500 per year. At an average 16 pounds lost, that's roughly double the cost.

9. THEY DON’T THINK YOU’LL ABUSE YOUR FREE FRUIT PRIVILEGES.

Under the PointsPlus system, members get a free pass with fruits and vegetables: they equate to zero points. While some dieticians and nutritionists argue that eating too much fruit could literally tip the scales, Kirchhoff explained that "There’s so little evidence that people abuse fruit. It takes a while to eat. It’s filling. Could you eat 12 bananas and count it as zero points? Yes. But how would you feel afterward?"

10. CHARLES BARKLEY WAS CAUGHT DISSING THEM.

One of many celebrity endorsers, Charles Barkley (a.k.a. “The Round Mound of Rebound”) became a spokesman in 2011. According to the New York Daily News, he was announcing an NBA game in January 2012 and—not realizing his microphone was still live—declared his deal with Weight Watchers to be a “scam.” He was apparently referring to getting paid to lose weight, not the program itself; the company later said in a statement they “love Charles … he’s unfiltered.”

11. THEY HAD TO REALLY WORK FOR CHINA.

Kirchhoff visited China in 2011 to see how the culture was embracing the Points system. Because pre-packaged food has confusing, spare labeling, and because the Chinese frequently eat out, the company had to stand by while chefs made nearly 20,000 common dishes and then measured their nutritional content.

12. SOME PEOPLE ARE BANNED.

Not from eating sensibly, obviously, but from actively participating in the Weight Watchers community. Demographics that are not welcome at meetings: anyone under the age of 10; anyone suffering from bulimia nervosa; anyone five pounds or less above their minimum-weight chart; and anyone pregnant.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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