The Skinny on Male 'Dieting'


On a recent Friday morning, Bill Cohen, 40, walked into an office in midtown, removed his Green Bay Packers jacket, belt and shoes, and stepped onto a scale. One of eight Weight Watchers' meeting offices in Manhattan (and about 50,000 weekly meetings worldwide), the room was filled with plastic chairs, motivational posters and Weight Watchers brand foods and pedometers.

The room also was filled -- with the conspicuous exception of Cohen -- with women, about 20 of them in their 20s to 60s, from svelte program longtimers to Rubenesque newbies.

Cohen, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed in at 186.8 lbs., above his target of 179 lbs. but well below the 236 lbs. he weighed before attending his first Weight Watchers meeting in 2003. Even though Cohen's mother led Weight Watchers meetings when he was growing up in Hawaii, and his wife, Melanie, went to work for the company several years ago after losing weight on the program, he was hesitant to try it.

"To me, Weight Watchers was just something that women did because the women in my life did it," says Cohen, a human resources manager for an insurance company. "It's the society in which we live: Dieting is like a 'girl's thing.' I'm not saying I believe this consciously, but it's one of those things built into the psyche of our culture, and most dieting products and dieting programs are geared to women."

But that is beginning to change. In 2007, the company launched Weight Watchers Online for Men, where Cohen and others access male-only discussion boards, articles like "What to Eat at the Ballpark" and workout videos. The Web site aims to draw meeting-averse men into Weight Watchers -- and collect a fee of $46.90 for the first month and $16.95 monthly thereafter. Compared to 2006, in 2007, Weight Watchers total male and female U.S. online subscribers were up 28 percent over 2006, and the company reports that growth of male subscribers specifically grew "significantly more" than that 28 percent, but declined to be more specific. In January 2007, two months before Weight Watchers launched the men's section on, it drew 4 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen Online. By January 2008, it had 4.2 million unique visitors, a 5 percent increase. Weight Watchers, which had revenue of $1.5 billion in 2007, a 19 percent increase over the prior year, reports that about 10 percent of its members are men.

Rival NutriSystem has made even greater strides with men. In 2006, NutriSystem, which previously had featured only a few men in its customer testimonials, hired its first male celebrity spokesman, former NFL quarterback Dan Marino. Today ads featuring Marino, 46, who lost 22 pounds, other ex-NFL players like Jim Stuckey and Mike Golic, and comedian Larry the Cable Guy appear in male-skewing media where NutriSystem had never advertised before, including ESPN TV and radio, Sports Illustrated and Men's Health.

NutriSystem reports that it is spending 29 percent of its television advertising budget on such male-oriented networks, but declined to disclose exact figures or its expenditures on print or radio.

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