On-The-Job Weight Loss: Worksite Programs Work

Employer-sponsored programs for weight loss are at least partially effective at helping workers take off extra pounds, according to a new review of recent studies.

“For people who participate in them, worksite-based programs do tend to result in weight loss,” said co-author Michael Benedict, M.D. Intensity matters, he found. “The programs that incorporated face-to-face contact more than once a month appeared to be more effective than other programs.”

Since most employed adults spend nearly one-half of their waking hours at work, such programs could have enormous potential in making a dent in the obesity epidemic, according to Benedict, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Health, Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The systematic review appears in the July-August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Benedict and colleague David Arterburn, M.D., looked at 11 studies published since 1994. Most involved education and counseling to improve diet and increase physical activity and lasted anywhere from two months to 18 months. Forty-six percent of the studies involved low-intensity interventions, 18 percent were moderate intensity and 36 percent were high intensity.

In studies that compared the two groups, participants lost an average of 2.2 pounds to almost 14 pounds, while non-participants ranged from a loss of 1.5 pounds to a gain of 1.1 pounds.

However, it was hard to draw conclusions about weight-loss maintenance, Benedict said. “People who participate in these programs can lose weight but we aren’t really sure what happens after that.”

So far, few data exist to show how much money employers could save if they incorporate worksite weight-loss programs. “Employers want to know that what they’re doing will have a positive return on investment,” Benedict said.

Studies have shown that other worksite health interventions — such as those aimed at smoking cessation and blood pressure reduction — benefit employers financially, usually within only two to three years, Benedict said. “Worksites have a tremendous potential to have a public health impact, but more research is needed.”

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