Work could be the best place for successful weight loss

 
By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: July 30th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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For more and more employers, keeping an eye on health insurance costs also means warily watching workers’ waistlines.

One recent survey found that over the next three to five years, nearly 60 percent of companies expect to begin penalizing workers through higher insurance fees if they don’t try to improve their health. For smokers, that means quitting. For the overweight and obese, that means trying to drop some pounds.

Sounds threatening. But as it turns out, in the war against extra weight, the workplace can be more than just an observant Big Brother. Work can be a successful forum for weight-loss programs, particularly when nutrition and behavior modification counseling are part of the offerings.

Recent research from Tufts University followed programs in which employees were enrolled in weight loss intervention programs based in their offices. Participants met weekly as a group with a counselor trained in nutrition and behavior modification. They also had individual interactions with the counselor in weekly one-on-one email exchanges.

Other attempts to help employees lose weight at work have had more modest results. But this study is distinctive because it relied heavily on using counselors to help people change habits — namely, the sorts of bad habits that had packed on the pounds in the first place.

In this study, employees enrolled in the program that included counseling lost, on average, 18 pounds over six months. By comparison, a control group of employees in a work-based program that left out the counseling component gained an average of two pounds over six months.

The idea of tying your health habits to your health care costs is a bitter pill to swallow. But this new information might help employers help their employees help themselves.