Weight Watchers founder, 91, dies in Florida

MIAMI (REUTERS) - The 91-year-old founder of weight loss company Weight Watchers International, Jean Nidetch, died of natural causes early on Wednesday, a company spokeswoman said.

Ms Nidetch struggled with weight throughout her life and founded the now wildly popular programme in the early 1960s in her apartment in Queens, New York. She had most recently been living in Boca Raton, Florida.

By 1963 Ms Nidetch's meetings, which emphasised personal responsibility and physical activity along with a fish-heavy diet, outgrew her apartment. "The first official Weight Watchers meeting was actually over a movie theater in Queens," former CEO David Kirchoff told CNN in a 2013 interview.

As Ms Nidetch's programne and meeting became ubiquitous she became a bona fide celebrity. Singer Jennifer Hudson and former professional basketball player Charles Barkley were among the millions of members who shed pounds through the programne. The pair went on to star in the company's television ads.

Today more than 36,000 Weight Watchers meetings take place through franchisees across the world, according to spokeswoman Jenny Zimmerman. The company also sells customised meals and subscriptions to online weight management products.

Weight Watchers was purchased by H.J. Heinz Company in 1978. The company was later acquired by Luxembourg-based Artal Group S.A. and was taken public in 2001.