Online Weight Loss Solutions May Not Be Appropriate for Pets or Humans

Ken Tudor, DVM
Updated: July 18, 2012
Published: April 19, 2012
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We all owe a great deal of gratitude to Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Jerry Wang. They were all instrumental in making massive amounts of information accessible to vast numbers of individuals. As a scientist and researcher, I marvel at the information that is available to me that once required access to an academic library. I think, however, that in this digital age the tendency is to believe that all problems can be solved by finding the right Internet source. I am dubious, especially when it comes to weight loss and weight management.

The Traditional Human Programs

We are all familiar with the traditional model of most human weight loss programs. Most incorporate meal plans with weekly meetings to assess results and offer support and educational resources for the dieters. With ever changing consumer lifestyles and readily available access to online resources, many of these programs offer online solutions so that dieters are free of the demands of meeting schedules. In fact, online formats are so popular that one major program is directing most of their future growth to that segment of their business.

Interestingly, and by their own admission, weight loss results from these offerings are significantly less than the traditional meeting format. Despite the overwhelming evidence of lack of results, public demand for online services are so great the company has no plans to ratchet back this business segment.

The Veterinary Programs

The veterinary community has been extremely slow to respond to the weight problems facing our patients. We are just now beginning to see veterinary practices offering supervised weight management programs. Embarrassingly, such programs have been propelled through the efforts of major pet food manufacturers rather than by independent realization of the veterinary community. As many of you have pointed out in responses to my blogs, veterinarians in general are weak in nutritional knowledge and seemingly not very motivated to pursue that information. In fact, a major veterinary continuing education conference I am attending in June is offering only one nutrition class — and it is for the newborn horse.

Despite all of this, more practices are focusing on weight loss with serious programs and follow-up re-checks, just like the human programs. Some are even offering informational group meetings for owners of dieting pets. However, our customers are ahead of us with technology and want online solutions just like those offered on the human side. That is not so easy for veterinarians.

Legal Issues

In many states, recommending a calorie count for pet weight loss constitutes an act of practicing veterinary medicine, which requires a physical client/patient/doctor relationship, with the veterinarian licensed in the client’s state of residence. This makes specific online dieting recommendations virtually impossible. That is why my blogs are about general topics related to weight loss rather than specific recommendations or endorsements of popular online solutions. I do not think this is all that unreasonable. Dieting is a very serious and very INDIVIDUAL. In fact, I am amazed that there is so much diet advice available to humans without medical supervision, including the traditional programs.

My Dilemma

With so few veterinarians — and doctors for that matter — knowledgeable about nutrition and weight loss, I truly understand why the public is searching for online solutions as a substitute. But as research has confirmed — and the human program mentioned above has documented — there is no substitute for an individualized, supervised weight loss program.


Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Andrii Muzyka / Shutterstock