How to super-size a wellness program


In the midst of a nationwide "obesity epidemic," is it profane to suggest that if people don’t fit into the standard height, weight and body mass index charts that they could still be healthy?
I have witnessed first-hand the panic that people feel when the results of their company-sponsored health risk appraisal places them in a moderate or high health risk category because of high body fat percent, when they have tried everything from diets to weight loss drugs but the pounds are not coming off.
Is it possible that using fear of death and disease as a motivator for weight loss and increased physical activity is an unproductive and ineffective incentive?
After all, says Jon Robison, who holds a doctorate in health education/exercise physiology and a master of science degree in human nutrition, "If fear were a good motivator, everyone in this country would certainly be thin and exercising"! Robison, in an interview published in the recent issue of Absolute Advantage, a Wellness Councils of America (WELCO) publication, said that when speaking of the "obesity epidemic," the term "epidemic" is more of a scare tactic that it is a scientific term.
Dr. Robison feels there is nothing we can do about populations that are getting heavier-just like there’s nothing we can do about populations getting taller. What we can do is focus on helping people to be healthier at whatever size they find themselves.
If we can help people find more balance in their lives on all levels, it’s very likely that their weight will come to a level that is healthy for them.
Robison’s holistic approach has its merits. And yet we cannot minimize the impact of weight and inactivity on health costs. There is no denying that obesity is a serious health condition affecting millions of Americans and costing U.S. businesses $13 billion annually in health care costs and productivity.
John Harris, a principal of Harris HealthTrends, Inc. in Toledo, Ohio, describes the level of physical activity of Americans today as deplorable. "One hundred years ago, people did 80% or more of the work that moved America physically, and now it’s a fraction of that original amount. Today, people have to literally think about moving and physical activity. In our past culture, we moved simply because it’s how work got done."
Since people spend 50 percent of their waking hours at work for 40 to 50 years, it makes sense that the worksite is a good place to create the motivation for successful weight loss. And yet our efforts at getting employees involved in workplace weight loss programs have produced minimal results.
Why are participation rates in these programs so low? A newly released study commissioned by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN) revealed that only 2 percent of the working population claims to have participated in an employer-sponsored weight-management program.
The good news is that of those who participated, nearly 50 percent reached and maintained their weight-loss goals said AAOHN president Susan A. Randolph.
"These findings are significant, indicating the value of workplace weight management programs, and representing a call to action for more businesses to provide employees with the types of onsite wellness programs that speak directly to obesity, and for more employees to take advantage of these programs," Randolph said.
The study, which included 10,000 telephone interviews among full-time employees ages 18 years and older, sheds new light on ways businesses can help employees lose pounds. According to the survey, workplace weight-management programs play a tremendous role in helping employees achieve weight loss.
he weight management activities used most often by the respondents in the study included; on-site visits by trained health and wellness professionals (38 percent), gym memberships (23 percent), educational opportunities, such as a health series or seminars (16 percent) diets with outlined goals (14 percent) and on-site exercise classes (13 percent).
Factors for Success
Respondents in the study stated there were a number of reasons for their workplace weight-loss successes, all of which seem to be directly tied to motivators found within a work environment. Some of the factors included:
* Built-in support groups – Created through per/co-worker motivation.
* Trained professional guidance – On-site professionals such as occupational and environmental health nurses who implement and provide guidance during the program.
* Convenience – Accessibility of on-site exercise classes, dieticians, healthier food in cafeterias and workout facilities.
* Encouragement – Employer incentives and encouragement by other employees to help reach their weight goals
According to the AAOHN, management involvement is a must. Management must recruit employees and promote the program often. A team atmosphere and shared success stories are crucial to the success of a program.
Employers also can consider non-traditional approaches when implementing a wellness program:
* Promote attainable weight expectations. Change the paradigm of the pursuit of the ideal body shape and size as driven by the diet, fashion, cosmetic, fitness, and pharmaceutical industries to self-acceptance of the natural diversity in body shape and size.
* Eliminate fear, guilt, and shame as motivators for weight loss. The use of fear, guilt, and shame as "motivators" does not work. Shift from the fear of death & disease to a desire to enhance a sense of purpose and enjoyment in life.
* Place more emphasis on the supportive factors for health related to weight loss, not just the risk factors for disease. Stress improved self-esteem and body image, increased energy and improved quality of life.
Connie Roethel, R.N., M.S.H., is president of Complementary Health & Healing Partners (CHHP), a corporate wellness and health promotion services company with offices in Mequon. She can be reached at (262) 241-9947.
August 6, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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