Work-Based Wellness Programs Can Reduce Employee Obesity

Employers can play their part in helping people to lose weight.

Workplace wellness programs can help people lose weight, a new study finds.

The two-year research study found that special workplace programs can reduce the number of obese people by 9%.

The programs work by offering healthier food options and the opportunity to take part in physical exercise.

The programs are typically run in participation with employees.

Dr Diana Fernandez, the study’s lead author, said:

“Worksites are self-contained environments with established communication systems where interventions that modify food options and provide physical activity have the potential to reach large numbers of adults.

This study shows in particular that when employees are empowered to help shape wellness programs, these programs appear to result in meaningful improvements in health.”

Surveys suggest that around half of US firms now have wellness programs.

These incentivise healthy behaviour and have already been shown to reduce health risks and health costs.

This is the first study, though, to show a beneficial effect on obesity.

Researchers worked in a Rochester-based company with sites across the northeastern US and the study included almost 4,000 people.

Half the 10 sites received the wellness intervention, the other half did not.

Amongst other things, the intervention involved dieticians meeting with cafeteria managers to change the recipes and reduce portion sizes.

Staff were rewarded for making healthy choices at the vending machines or in the cafeteria with free meals.

Physical activity programs included walking clubs, activities like Frisbee golf at lunch time and the upgrading of gym facilities.

After the two years of the study, 5% of employees without the wellness program had become obese.

But at sites which had the program, 4% were no longer obese.

Dr Fernandez said:

“This study suggests that worksite environmental interventions might be promising strategies for weight control at the population level.

These observations lend support to the approaches that might eventually reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity on a larger scale.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health (Fernandez et al., 2015)

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