www.na The Pilates Body: Weightwatchers.com: Exploring the Web's Importance in the Obesity Battle

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Weightwatchers.com: Exploring the Web's Importance in the Obesity Battle

Issues concerning body image pervade modern culture, and the discussion of the problems caused by an unrealistic desire to attain an ideal physique is quite common. Perceptions of body weight differ between men and women. Females of normal weight are more likely to view themselves as too fat, while men of normal weight consider themselves too skinny. Societal influences such as the media, music videos, the fashion industry, magazines, and television shape people’s perceptions of their body size, providing thinner-than-average role models for women. Overweight females feel pressured to lose weight in order to look more like the women they see in the magazines and movies. However, the heavier a woman becomes, the more embarrassed she may be to exercise at gyms and go to group nutritional counseling. With the widespread availability and convenience of the Internet boom, females have access to information in the privacy and comfort of their homes, giving them the chance to succeed in weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, within their own time schedule.

The Internet is a leading media choice for the female population. In fact, Pew Internet Research shows that 71% of women use the Internet on a regular basis. To help them balance all facets of their work, family, and social lives, women rely on the Internet and its efficiency to manage everything with ease. Women, especially mothers, have too many responsibilities to take care of in a limited amount of time. With so many worries, they are left with very little time for themselves--leaving them without the ability to maintain their weight or join a weight loss program. As with Weight Watchers, members are encouraged to go to meetings and nutritional counseling for support during the program. With a myriad of life stressors, it is almost impossible to attend any of the meetings suggested by the weight loss program. Weight Watchers provides a way for women to stay connected, remain motivated, and seek the help they need to succeed in the Weight Watchers--or any--weight management plan. For these reasons, the website for Weight Watchers was recognized as an "Outstanding Website" by the Web Marketing Association's WebAward based on a number of criteria. Despite the fact that the site meets most of these criteria with great aplomb with regards to its goal within the field of health care, the Weight Watchers website does have a noticeable limitation.

Although Weight Watcher received recognition from WebAward, the in-depth explanations of the judging process are not extensive. Thus, Webby Awards--an honor given to outstanding websites in their respective fields--is used to unpack the Weight Watchers. Webby Awards offers a set of criteria based on six categories: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. Argues Webby Awards, sites with good structure and navigation are "consistent, intuitive, and transparent" and allow one to "form a mental model of the information provided, where to find things, and what to expect after clicking an item." The main menu consistently lies at the top of each web page with the same ordering and positioning. When one clicks on one of the seven menu tabs, sub-menus drop down below the main heading. For example, after clicking “Success Stories,” four different sub-menus appear as can be seen in the image below. Additionally, “a consistent approach to layout and navigation allows readers to adapt quickly to your design," states Web Style Guide, "and to confidently predict the location of information and navigation controls across the pages of your site." Weight Watchers' website absolutely satisfies this recommendation. Website users can always click on any of the other menu options or the homepage at any time during their experience at the Weight Watchers website. Additionally, one can navigate through the site to search for information, learn new exercise tips, read success stories, and find healthy recipes without becoming a member of Weight Watchers beforehand. Only when a visitor wants personal feedback or individual tools for their own weight management is the website restricted to members-only. This is significant because the site provides material for people who may not be able to afford the cost of Weight Watchers each month. Moreover, it assists in the battle against obesity without charging people for learning the essential tools for a healthy lifestyle. Because navigating through the website is quick, easy, and accessible, people are very likely to visit Weight Watchers frequently and possibly become a member.

The Weight Watchers website aims to inform the visitors about the weight loss program, fitness options, recipe ideas, and various health topics. Weight Watchers calls their weight loss program “TurnAround," consisting of the “Flex Plan”—choose any food but control the amount with points, and the “Core Plan”—eat wholesome foods from all the food groups without counting. Giving the members diet options makes the program and the site more appealing to people interested in losing weight. Some do not want to give up their favorite foods, but do not know how to limit the amount they eat--the Points plan would work well for them. Others like to eat more amounts of food, but need direction on which foods to eat and how to cook them--the Core Plan would fit them perfectly. Most importantly, the website provides extensive amounts of information on both plans so the visitor knows as much as possible about the programs before becoming a member. For example, after clicking on "Take the Tour" then "How TurnAround Works," visitors will find more information regarding the Flex Plan and the Core Plan. The Flex Plan explains to readers that they can eat all the food they love while still staying in control with a point formula tested by nutritionists and physicians. With the detailed information given, coupled with the illustrations of a positive outcome, visitors are well informed before choosing to join the program.

Not only does the website explain the two weight management programs Weight Watchers presents, but they also offer information on ways to stay active under the “Healthy and Fit” tab in the menu bar. The site displays workouts just for women and some just for men to target tough areas for each gender. Additionally, they have a six-page archive of Fitness Ideas to control weight and improve health. In fact, they chose Pilates as an "exercise that empowers." Webby Award's judging criteria suggests, "Good content should be engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience." By offering visitors information beyond the range of the company's general material, Weight Watchers addresses the issues and concerns of their website users and program members. Those attempting to lose weight not only care about their diet and food intake. They must be informed about different exercise regimens and their impact on weight loss. If people do not add exercise into a weight loss plan, they will be more likely to plateau during weight loss, and eventually lose the motivation to reach their goals. Because the content of the site is informative, useful, and communicates a wealth of knowledge to the public, Weight Watchers displays award-winning characteristics.

The “Community” navigation tool, and its "Message Boards" are an essential part of this website. It consists of forty different sections, including the "Community Recipe Swap," and it gives people the ability to share failures and successes, make new friends, be a friend, and become inspired. Webby Award argues, "Interactive elements are what separate the Web from other media. It allows a user to give and receive. It insists that you participate, not spectate." The open forum is a way for Weight Watchers participants to express problems, fears, and frustrations during their weight loss plan. If they cannot attend the meetings, they have the option of an online discussion conducted in the comfort of home at their own convenience. One particularly moving example of people encouraging one another is a posting titled "HELP!!! I need to get back on track!!!" One woman posts, "This has been the worst week ever! Food has become my friend again... and I don't want that! PLEASE help me get back on track..." Another member responds to the post within fifty minutes and says, "You have already taken the first step by asking for help." She then offers the woman the name of the group that helped her to get through a tough time. She ends the post, "Just don't give up!" Including this aspect of the website ensures visitor and participant feedback for the company and women-to-women support for the program. Furthermore, it is important to allow this interactivity for insecure and shy people in need of having questions answered. Because they do not have to reveal their identities, members do not have to feel embarrassed asking questions; they simply get the help and advice they need. When people can communicate with each other, they feel a sense of camaraderie, friendship, and support.

Websites need authority to be trusted and resp
ected, and accordingly, it is important to display the authorship and their respective credentials. Weight Watchers includes a “Science Center” in the “Healthy and Fit” section of the site to explain the science behind their weight loss plan and the people involved in determining the facts. As stated by Weight Watchers, the Scientific Council is “a group of credentialed scientists with proficiency in weight management. In addition, Weight Watchers consults regularly with renowned experts to make certain that its weight-loss plan reflects the latest scientific thinking.” Due to the extensive list of physicians and scientists, the website's visitors and members are ensured that they are following an effective program--what rhetoricians call an appeal to ethos, or appeal to the credibility of the organization. To further answer any questions a person may have, the site offers a Science Library--a six-part resource center addressing health and fitness. Because the Science Center offers information supporting the weight loss program, it has an appeal to logos--logical reasoning for following Weight Watchers. Rather than having to research on another website, they have the information within a click away from the previous page; convenience is what every person with many responsibilities needs, and this site offers just that.

While this website
is a celebrated and an award-winning web page, and deservedly so, the site does have its drawbacks. For example, it preferentially focuses on the female population. Every picture on the homepage, and nearly every page throughout the website, consists of women smiling and looking happy. As a result of the looks of happiness and joy on the women's faces in the pictures, a visitor may think they can be just as content if they join Weight Watchers, which furthers the appeal to the users' pathos or emotions. While the pictures change each time one returns to the page, it switches to a new picture of females. Only two pictures of men are shown on the website: one of a man canoeing with a woman, and another that depicts an exercise for the men. Although obesity is prevalent in both males and females, the website openly appeals to the latter.

Societal bias may be a reason for this phenomenon. Dr. Donald R. McCreary, a research scientist at the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto, explains, “When we take a look at the way we view our bodies and the impact on our happiness, our self-concept, it’s different for men and women because society puts pressure on women to
be thin.” If this is the case, then it would explain why women are the focal point of the website. Web Style Guide indicates that one must "identify the potential readers of [the] Website so that [one] can structure the site design to meet their needs and expectations." Women need assistance with choosing healthy foods and limiting the amount they eat not just for them, but for the entire family. The creator of the site obviously understood the user population--women--and centered the information and pictures on them. Even if females are the focus, the site should have some appeal to males. Perhaps they could have included several pictures of men with women on the home page or provided a separate section just for men.

Even though the site has its shortcomings, it does not take away from the fact t
hat Weight Watchers is a rich resource for information on weight loss, fitness, and health. More than merely addressing the obesity issue in the United States, Weight Watchers makes its website available for people looking to lose weight in thirty countries. This international contact illustrates the respectability that Weight Watchers has, as well as its applicability to a wide variety of cultural groups. With its ease of navigation, wide range of information, open interactivity, and options for food and fitness health, Weight Watchers is undeniably deserving of a WebAward and the high regard of Internet users alike.


At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Sharon said...

Hello Meredith.

Thanks for passing by my site and dropping a message.

I would like to see if I can carry a teaser of this article (400 - 500 words or so) on my site with a link back to your site with a full article. It should remain on the front page between 3 - 5 days, and with a permanent link under the apropriate category. I will also be a contributor section on the front page that will link back to your site. Please let me know when you have a moment!


At 9:58 AM, Blogger David Cohen said...

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