November 18, 2010; Source: The Detroit News | Opting for a nonprofit weight loss program over a for-profit competitor can help you lose weight just as effectively but without shedding as many dollars from your wallet. A new study found that over three years, dieters who enrolled in the low-cost nonprofit Take Off Pounds Sensibly program (TOPS) lost—and kept off—5 to 7 percent of their body weight.

Researchers from Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, a Denver suburb, said TOPS programs cost about $90 a year while participants in Weight Watchers can fork over between $480 and $625 annually. Programs such as Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, which combine weight loss counseling with special low-calorie meals participants purchase, can eat up about $3,600 and $6,000 a year. “This is the first time a study of this size and duration has ever been done on a weight loss program,” said Nia Mitchell, a physician at the University of Colorado Denver.

Researchers say the strength of the TOPS program is that individual chapters function as support groups. The costs are lower because the program, and others like Overeaters Anonymous, doesn’t require gym equipment, personal trainers, or special meals. Instead participants attend weekly meetings where volunteers monitor food intake and dieters’ progress.

Members also join hands at the start of meetings and recite the TOPS pledge which reminds them that if they “overeat in private, my excess poundage is there for all to see.” The program’s emphasis on peer mentoring is proving to be as effective “when it comes to weight loss” as helping to “encourage behavioral changes in other areas,” according to Mitchell. Cheaper? Yes. But any easier to lose weight? The article doesn’t say.—Bruce Trachtenberg