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by Kate McMahon

Like millions of Americans, I have become obsessed with points.

Not point spreads. Or mortgage points. Or reward points. Or my high school junior’s grade-point-average.

But rather Weight Watchers Points, which are being tallied on computers and smartphone apps and highlighted on product labels on supermarket shelves across the country.

The venerable company has seen its revenues soar since the introduction of its Weight Watchers Online program in 2010 and its retooled PointsPlus system for tracking food intake and exercise earlier this year.

Even ex-NBA star Charles Barkley is a PointsPlus kind-of-guy, dressing in drag to reveal his slim physique as spokesman for the Weight Watchers for Men Online campaign. (WW’s other face, Jennifer Hudson, strikes the sultry pose much better than Sir Charles.)

The idea behind PointsPlus is to measure the fat, carbohydrate and protein calories consumed daily and reduce each item of food to a number of points. The WW website lists the value of some 40,000 items. Ditto menu choices items from hundreds of restaurants and chains. If the food or dish isn’t on the list, it is very easy to calculate the points by entering basic info into your computer or smartphone app or WW calculator. Even cooler? A new integrated barcode scanning app that reveals the PointsPlus value of an item with a quick scan.

WW members, who can join the online community or choose to attend the traditional weekly meetings, are allowed to consume a pre-determined number of points each day depending on height, weight, age and weight loss goal. Each dieter also gets an extra 49 points to be used throughout the week to splurge on a special occasion or favorite food craving, and can swap out food points for earned “activity points. The online site has a multitude of trackers, e-tools, recipes, menus, plan-friendly shopping lists, advice and products. And there are “cheat sheets” for categories including breakfast, salad bars, barbecue, beers and happy hours.

Quite an evolution since an overweight Brooklyn homemaker named Jean Nidetch founded the WW support groups back in 1963 and participants logged their calories in a notebook. The business take-aways here? Credit Weight Watchers for:

Capitalizing on the nation’s need to lose weight and burgeoning fascination with nutritional information of all kinds.

• Launching a sophisticated program aimed at men only, keying in on foods, exercise and health issues that pertain to men.

• Utilizing cutting edge technology and social media to keep both genders engaged down to the last tablespoon of salad dressing or swig of artisanal brew.

• WW is creating an evolving system with enormous buzz that is affecting how people shop the supermarket ... and supermarkets have virtually no influence or impact on it. This is a marker for a new reality that businesses have to face - that more than ever, there are compelling outside influences dictating shopping behavior.

I’m two weeks into this and have radically changed my dieting and shopping habits. I scrutinize every label, and am always delighted to find a product (such as Progresso’s Light soups) which have the PointsPlus already computed. In the frozen foods section, I know I can find PointsPlus on Weight Watchers’ entrees as well as the competition - Lean Cuisine – in the same freezer case.

And when I’m going out to eat, I can plan ahead.

If that means splurging and using more than half of my daily PointsPlus allotment (26) on an In-n-Out double-double burger (18), it’s well worth it. Just hold the fries.

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