Diet plans don’t flinch despite carb counting |

Diet plans don’t flinch despite carb counting

Barbara Marquand

As snack food and restaurant industries introduce new products to get a bite of the low-carb trend, established diet plans are standing firm.

Neither Jenny Craig nor Weight Watchers has changed its plans, and both have responded with education campaigns that knock some of the claims from promoters of extreme lowcarb eating.

No one can deny the low-carb trend has ballooned.

Almost one out of six American households 17 percent include someone that is following some form of a low-carb diet, according to a recent ACNielsen Home Survey.

Even a chewing gum brand now touts its zero net carb content in television commercials.

In the last year, Jenny Craig responded with a brochure, “Low-Carb Diets: Myth or Miracle” that explains the role of carbohydrates and questions the scientific veracity of low-carb diet claims.

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In its 16-page brochure, “The Truth About Carbs,”Weight Watchers International states, “No- and low-carb diets may be the latest craze in weight loss, but it’s taken the sound idea of cutting back on empty calories and hijacked it into extreme, flawed thinking.” How heavily has the low-carb trend impacted the traditional diet plans? “If there was an impact, it was very short term,” says Jenny Craig spokeswoman Gail Manginelli.

“Quarter over quarter, revenues are up.”

Weight Watchers of Northern Nevada Vice President Stephen Adams says the diet plan hasn’t seen a drop in membership locally.

But in its 2003 annual report, the company states that low-carb diets, such as Atkins and the South Beach, hampered growth in its North American business.

“We believe that the attraction of these programs has peaked, however the pace of the decline of the low-carb phenomenon is inherently uncertain,” the company states.

Still Weight Watchers, which operates in 30 countries, grew last year with total net revenues at $943.9 million for fiscal year 2003, compared to $809.6 million in fiscal year 2002.

Adams of Weight Watchers of Northern Nevada likens the low-carb trend to many other fads that have come and gone in the 35 years that he’s been involved with the company.

His mother, Mona Adams, was a leader in the early beginnings of Weight Watchers in New York, and Adams got involved as a young man after losing 50 pounds on the plan.

“After years of watching things come and go, this is just the latest thing,” he says.

The problem with a lot of new diets, he says, is they don’t address the behavioral issues behind gluttony.

Eating too much of any food, whether it’s meat or potatoes, will cause weight gain.

Manginelli says people want to try “the new kid on the block” whenever new diets come along.

“Now we’re getting a number of what we call Atkins refugees, a term coined by Newsweek,” she says.

These are dieters who found that low-carb eating didn’t work for them.

While competition may be keen, the diet industry continues to serve up plenty of opportunity.

Americans will spend almost $40 billion this year to lose weight, according to Marketdata Enterprises, a Tampa, Fla.

– based company that tracks the weight loss services and products market.

And the company projects the weight-loss industry will grow 5.6 percent a year to $48.8 billion in 2006.

About 64 percent of Americans are considered overweight or obese, up from 56 percent a decade ago, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.