Jean Nidetch, Founder Of Weight Watchers, Dies At 91
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And a moment now for someone who started a revolution in weight loss. Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers, died today at her home in Florida. She was 91. In the 1960s, Nidetch turned her chronic weight problem into the world's most successful weight loss business. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this remembrance.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: For Jean Nidetch, it all came to head in a grocery store in 1961 when a neighbor exploded into a big smile, told her she looked absolutely wonderful and asked when she was due. She was 72 pounds overweight. Determined to change her life, Nidetch began going to obesity meetings at a New York City health clinic. There, she learned how to eat.
But the health clinic meetings were dry, impersonal and oh-so boring. Nidetch knew she'd never make it in this environment, so instead of just quitting the whole shebang like most of us would, she started her own meetings in her Queens apartment and invited her overweight friends.
GARY FOSTER: Arguably, it's the first social network, right? This is what Jean did.
GOODWYN: Gary Foster is the Chief Science Officer at Weight Watchers International.
FOSTER: She got people from very different ways of life, but had some shared intimacy around the struggles of helping people manage their weight.
GOODWYN: There was no shaming in Weight Watchers meetings. It needed to be fun so people would come back. Nidetch would tell how she used to hide Mallomar cookies at the bottom of her laundry hamper to loosen things up.
FOSTER: The sharing of stories is critical. Many people think that they're the only person who struggles - the only person for whom the cake is screaming at them.
GOODWYN: Jean Nidetch was on to something big - not a pill, not a diet, but a lifelong change in eating habits. Weight Watchers exploded, first across New York City and then the country. For Nidetch, there were appearances on Johnny Carson, showing off her svelte 140 pound figure, a syndicated television series, summer camps for overweight kids. Her message - honey, if I can do it, so can you. She stayed at her goal weight the rest of her life. According to the company, there are now 36,000 Weight Watchers meetings every week. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.
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