1. Understand what the program offers - does it promise more than it can deliver? Is there written proof that the program works in the long term for weight maintenance? If it does not, chances are the person won't be able to maintain a healthy weight for an extended time. Ask for written proof of the program's effectiveness.
2. Does the program emphasize physical activity - and teach ways to become more physically active based on a person's preferences and health? If it does not, it also does not meet the AHA's standards.
3. Does the program screen people for health risks, such as diabetes or high blood pressure? It should.
4. Does the program offer easy access to prescription weight-loss drugs? It should not. Weight-loss drugs may be associated with serious risks, and should only be used under strict medical supervision by people 20 percent or more above their ideal weight.
5. Does the program suggest participants buy pre-packaged foods only available at the weight-loss center? These products may make a lot of money for the commercial programs but may not be the best way to teach participants healthy eating behaviors.
6. Does the program offer one-to-one consultation, with realistic weight-loss goals? It should. In addition, it should offer personalized food plans that take the person's food preferences and weight history into consideration.
7. What are the qualifications of the program personnel? Are they healthcare professionals? Or are they "motivational speakers" without formal medical training? If they are simply "motivational speakers," don't get involved with the program.
8. Is the program endorsed by a celebrity who looks good but lacks credentials? Lay people, such as actors and actresses without healthcare credentials, should receive appropriate training by registered dietitians, exercise leaders (certified by the American College of Sports Medicine) and behavioral scientists. They should also participate in documented continuing education and be monitored by healthcare professionals.