While millions around the world struggle with weight issues, America has lost an icon in healthy life style and dieting.
Jean Nidetch, whose fight with her obesity problem led her to found Weight Watchers, died on Wednesday at her Fort Lauderdale home. She was 91 years old.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mrs. Nidetch had struggled with her weight throughout her early life. She tried countless "fad diets" with no success. The 5'7" housewife reached more than 200 pounds by the time she was 38 years old. That was when she finally went to an obesity clinic sponsored by New York City in 1961 to embark on her long weight-loss journey.
Yet she still found her cheating with her eating, making her realize that rigorous dieting required sharing experiences with peers who were going through the same challenges. She started organizing a meeting in her living room in Queens, where a group of friends who all wanted to lose weight could meet up to keep motivating each other.
Within two months, the meeting grew to a group of 40 women who charted their progress and kept each other accountable to their weight loss goals. This innovative approach, which enabled her to lose 72 pounds, led her to launch Weight Watchers in 1963. Five years later, the company went public.
The company was sold to H.J. Heintz Company in 1978 but she stayed involved in the company. Her philosophy "It's choice – not chance – that determined your destiny," also remained as the company's credo.
Aside from weight management, Mrs. Nidetch continued to advocate for the advancement of women in business and politics. She established the Jean Nidetch Women's Center and Scholarship program at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas for students who have overcome adversity to achieve their academic goals. She also launched the Jean Nidetch Dissertation Award at the University of California at Los Angeles.