(Adds details, comments from Insider interview, background, share activity)
By Lisa Baertlein
CHICAGO, March 12 (Reuters) - David Kirchhoff, chief executive officer of Weight Watchers International Inc, shed 35 pounds (15.9 kg) with his company's program and sees a growth opportunity in helping more men shrink their waistlines.
"Dealing with weight was not a thing a lot of guys thought about, frankly, until fairly recently," Kirchhoff said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago on Monday.
"Men are as likely to be measured overweight or measured clinically obese as women. The ill-health effects that come with that are the same for men as for women, yet women are twice as likely to do something about it," said Kirchhoff, who attended his first Weight Watchers meeting in New York in 2000 and remains svelte.
Men historically have accounted for less than 10 percent of Weight Watchers' business and the company last year signed up former NBA star Charles Barkley as its first male spokesman in a bid to drive that higher.
"Men have to take a hold of the issue of obesity and health. It's just as important for guys as it is for women," said Kirchhoff, who also blogs about weight loss, nutrition and exercise at http://manmeetsscale.blogspot.com/.
When asked by Reuters Insider if men could one day account for half of its members, he said: "I'd like to think that that was a possibility one day, but I think it's going to take us a little while to get there."
Rivals in the roughly $61 billion U.S. weight management industry also are keen to add male customers.
Nutrisystem Inc, whose pitchmen include legendary football player Terry Bradshaw, aggressively markets to men on sports channels and other mainstream media.
Elsewhere, Nestlé S.A.'s Jenny Craig weight-loss system offers a program called Jenny for Men.
Roughly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. Increasing affluence in developing countries is contributing to global obesity.
Public health officials have warned that obesity is fast replacing tobacco as the single most important preventable cause of costly chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Increasing affluence in developing countries also is contributing to a rise in global obesity rates.
Roughly 1.3 million members attend Weight Watchers meetings around the world each week and the company has targeted China, the world's most populous nation and its fastest-growing major economy, as a market for future growth.
"We take a long-term view of China," said Kirchhoff, who added that the company is working to create a version of the program that is well suited to Chinese consumers.
Weight Watchers' 2011 net income rose 57 percent to $304.9 million, as new programs and effective marketing buoyed revenue from meetings and WeightWatchers.com.
Shares in the company closed at $80.32 on Monday, up 30 percent from a year ago.
(1 lb = 0.4536 kilo) (For more summit stories, see ) (For summit blog: http://blogs.reuters.com/summits/) (Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits) (Writing by Lisa Baertlein; editing by Matthew Lewis and Carol Bishopric)