The Business of Weight Loss - PBS Nightly Business Report

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The Business of Weight Loss

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TOM HUDSON: One in three American adults is obese. Being very overweight brings with it significant health risks and significant costs, at a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance. A new study in the medical journal "Lancet" finds patients who were told by their doctor to use Weight Watchers lost twice as much weight as those who just saw their doctor. We spoke with the CEO of Weight Watchers International (NYSE: WTW) David Kirchhoff about what this study means for the way his company does business.

DAVID KIRCHHOFF, PRES. & CEO, WEIGHT WATCHERS INTL: Weight loss isn`t necessarily an easy thing to do and it`s not an easy thing to sustain. But when the right behavior elements are in place, you can have success which is therefore the consumer part of our business which is, you know, hoping to inspire people and motivate them and give them a reasonable belief they can succeed, will help give them that extra spark that helps them through the behavior change process. The health care really is an entirely new way and very much a complimentary way of sort of helping people find the right approach to address the weight issue and kind of nudging them as well so it really becomes kind of a new channel, if you will.

HUDSON: Dave, I want to point out that Weight Watchers did pay for this study. It was done in Europe for full disclosure. What`s the opportunity, the business opportunity for Weight Watchers here?

KIRCHHOFF: One minor point on that, we funded the study by it was done out of the medical research council, was the lead out of Cambridge University. We had zero input on study design, data analysis, editorial.

HUDSON: Point taken watch. What about the business opportunity for Weight Watchers here?

KIRCHHOFF: I think the business opportunity again is going to be going into the future, finding ways of partnering with doctors. And so therefore creating the business systems and the partnerships and everything else to kind of bring that to life. It then becomes the part of the business change process that we start pursuing going forward.

HUDSON: And Dave as you are pursuing that, any hiring plans in the United States for the rest of the year?

KIRCHHOFF: I`m very proud to say that we are hiring. We have been all this year. And we have been hiring in two principal areas. One has been around supporting technology and our Internet products. That`s a very big part of our business right now, Weight Watchers online, developing iPhone, applications, Android, iPad all those types of things. We have been hiring a lot of software folks. We`ve also been hiring people in the health care space to build out that part of our business because it requires a whole new set of capabilities and I think the point is that we are hiring because we see growth opportunities which really if you look at it is the only reason that people actually hire.

HUDSON: With that in mind, where are those growth opportunities? What is your view of the U.S. economy?

KIRCHHOFF: In terms of the economy itself, I mean there`s not a lot to be incredibly positive about in terms of sort of a rapid resurgence of the American economy. You have these confounding issues of you know consumers are sort of confused and depressed and everything else. And you can see that in consumer confidence numbers and frankly businesses aren`t doing much better. So I believe what everybody else will tell you which is that the economy itself is going to limp around, but we`re going to continue to pursue growth opportunities like health care, like technology and frankly even in our core consumer proposition with our group support.

HUDSON: Dave, you are in a really interesting intersection with consumers and health care. These are two big debates going on just down the road from where you are in Washington on Capitol Hill. What would you like to see from policymakers in regards to kick starting economic growth?

KIRCHHOFF: I think the biggest thing without a doubt that policymakers can do to kick start economic growth is to once and for all resolve their issues that they have with each other. Come up with a plan to address completely overcomplicated tax code, come up with a plan to address how to make entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid stronger and sustainable. Same thing with Social Security and manage the deficit at the same time. And show a clear set of direction. I think what is really sort of bringing everything to its knees is the uncertainty that we`re seeing kind of across the board with no clear path forward.

HUDSON: Our guest here today from Washington, DC, it`s the CEO of Weight Watchers International (NYSE: WTW), Dave Kirchhoff.

16 Sep, 2011

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