June 30, 2008 -- Workplace wellness programs are effective in helping employees lose weight, a research review shows.
Researchers sifted through 11 studies published since 1994, some which were updated in 2006. Most of the programs involved education and counseling to improve diet and increase physical activity.
Some programs offered a health risk assessment and lab work; others provided one-on-one and email counseling. Only one included on-site exercise sessions, and another added healthy menu items in the cafeteria, along with nutritional information.
The work-site intervention programs lasted a minimum of eight weeks and involved workers aged 32 to 52.
Before and after the start of the work-site intervention the participants had their BMI (body mass index) or weight taken.
Workplace Weight Loss
On average participants lost 2-14 pounds compared to employees not involved in the work-site weight loss intervention programs.
The workers that did not participate either lost an average of 1 and 1/2 pounds, or gained an average of 1 pound.
So do on-the-job weight loss programs work? "For people who participate in them, work-site-based programs do tend to result in weight loss," researcher Michael Benedict, MD, from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says in a news release.
What seems to matter most when it comes to dropping the pounds? The in-your-face approach, according to Benedict. "Programs that incorporated face-to-face contact more than once a month appeared to be more effective than other programs."
However, since the follow-up was slim it was hard to draw conclusions about whether the weight would stay off, Benedict says. From 56% to 100% of the participants finished the studies, which ranged from two to 18 months. "People who participate in these programs can lose weight, but we aren't really sure what happens after that."
In an article that runs alongside the review, authors point out that "65% of adults in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese."
The researchers add that work-site weight loss programs can provide "unique opportunities for decreasing adult obesity."
- Emotional support from colleagues.
- A structured program can offer opportunities to learn about nutrition and exercise.
The researchers write that employees have been offering more work wellness programs.
According to the researchers, a separate 2003 study showed that "approximately 6% of all U.S. health care costs ($75 billion dollars) were related to excess body weight."
It's not clear how much money employers could save if they offered weight loss programs. "Employers want to know that what they're doing will have a positive return on investment," Benedict says.
Benedict writes that efforts to curb obesity at work can look for success to similar workplace programs, including a drive to help people quit smoking and lower their blood pressure, a win-win for employers.
The researchers admit the data have limits; they call for "vigorous, controlled studies of work-site-based interventions that integrate educational, behavioral, environmental and economic supports."
The research is published in the July-August issue of American Journal of Health Promotion.