Margaret Fowler, Director of Community Wellness for Calvert Memorial Health, knows people can change. She's helped thousands of people improve their eating habits, make time for exercise, and reduce their risk factors for chronic disease. And when it comes to weight loss, she says it's always exciting to see someone make a transformation.
"Employees at one of our nursing homes completed the health risk assessment," says Fowler, "and the HRA results alone prompted one of their administrators to make some big changes. She basically started a whole new life, changed her eating and exercise habits and lost 70 pounds."
For some people, getting a plain-and-simple report about their health status and risks for chronic disease is enough to motivate them to lose weight. But people respond differently when they're faced with a huge problem like losing 70 pounds.
If a significant number of your participants are overweight or obese, you're not alone. It's a universal problem that is linked to rising healthcare costs. But with the right intervention strategies, you can motivate, educate, and encourage participants to lose weight and keep it off.
Wellsource Corporate Wellness Consultant Shawn Meyers helps organizations use tools to assess the health of their populations and develop interventions to target specific risk factors. One organization Meyers worked with paid for their employees to be part of a weight management program at a local clinic.
"They achieved phenomenal results in terms of weight loss and reduction in risk factors," says Meyers. "But many organizations don't have the budget for that. More typically, organizations take a multi-faceted approach to weight loss by focusing on increasing physical activity, improving nutrition, and educating people about healthy choices."
Here are a few intervention strategies you can use to encourage weight management:
Health Coaching – Many wellness programs and medical plans provide participants with access to health coaches to help them understand their HRA results, set goals, and make lifestyle changes to lose weight and reduce other health risk factors.
At Calvert Memorial Health, wellness program participants get help from health coaches, personal trainers, health educators, registered dieticians, and health educators.
"We've seen a lot of success from health and lifestyle coaching," says Fowler. "Our coaches sit down with people and look at their risk factors. Then they come up with goals and a weekly plan to address nutrition and fitness. Meeting with our health coaches is one of the first things people do after completing the HRA. And the multi-disciplinary team we have really helps provide the guidance and direction people need to be successful."
Incentives – On the popular TV show, The Biggest Loser, participants are motivated to lose weight for a chance to win $1 million. Many employers have created their own weight-loss competitions based on the show and offer cash rewards to those who shed weight.
In a recent study, individuals were offered $100 for each month they lost weight. In another group, five people split $500 each month for losing weight. But if someone in the group didn't reach the goal, their $100 was split between other members of the group. Researchers found that the group approach worked significantly better at achieving weight-loss goals than individuals trying to lose weight on their own.
"Money for weight loss is probably the single most common incentive used in wellness programs to encourage weight loss," Meyers says. "People are willing to put in the effort to lose weight for money. A lot of companies have used the model, and it works really well."
You may also consider using incentives such as gift cards, tangible rewards, and other items to encourage weight loss, but "money is a proven motivator," Meyers says.
Health Challenges – At Saint Francis Medical Center in Missouri, Wellness Coordinator Eileen Sievers knows monthly health challenges can motivate people to change and encourage healthy behavior. The Wellsource® Health Challenges focus on one specific topic per month related to nutrition, physical activity, mental health, or lifestyle choices. It provides participants with day-to-day things they can do to make behavior changes to improve their health. And specific challenges for improving physical activity and nutrition can help people take steps towards losing weight.
The Health Challenge is included with a subscription to the monthly WellNotes® newsletter that features tips and information about diet, exercise, and healthy living. Here are some recent examples of Health Challenges Wellsource offers that are focused on weight management, diet, and exercise.
"To receive wellness points for a Health Challenge, participants must complete the calendar and record the actions and choices they made daily during the month to develop a new healthy habit," says Sievers. "We've found that using the calendar to write down specific choices has greatly enhanced the value in creating behavior change in our clients."
Lunch and Learns – Many wellness-focused organizations host regular "Lunch and Learn" events to provide information, resources, and encouragement for wellness program participants. To address obesity, you might consider topics about effective weight-loss strategies, diet and nutrition, weight maintenance, physical activity, and myths about fad diets. If your organization employs health professionals, you may also invite them to present new research and information at a monthly meeting.
At Wellsource, our monthly "Lunch and Learn" lectures are presented by Wellsource founder Don Hall, DrPh, CHES, and Gerard McLane, DrPh, CHES. Dr. McLane recently presented information about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet based on research collected in the five-year PREDIMED Study.
"Most of our employees attend our 'Lunch and Learn' presentations," Meyers says. "It's a great way to help participants focus on a specific topic or health behavior. And we've found that participants are very engaged and ask some great questions at these meetings."
One way to increase participation at a Lunch and Learn event is to serve healthy snacks. At Wellsource, we do this at our own monthly all-staff meeting. It's a great way for employees to sample healthy foods, share recipes, and be reminded to make smart food choices.
Lifestyle Intervention Programs – If in-person health coaching isn't in your budget, a web-based lifestyle intervention program is another effective way to help participants lose weight. The LivingLean™ Weight Management program offered by Wellsource helps people take a closer look at their eating habits and food choices. This effective and affordable 12-week program can help change thinking and behaviors related to food and weight loss.
LEAN Works! Program – If you want to design an intervention strategy to help people lose weight and prevent weight gain, many resources are available online to help wellness coordinators. Take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's free LEAN Works! program. The free web-based program includes interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design obesity prevention and control programs. You can calculate how much obesity is costing your organization, and figure out how much you could save with a healthier workforce. The LEAN Works! program will guide you through the process of creating your own program, building program components and activities, motivating participants, and assessing your efforts.
"The most successful weight-loss programs usually include multiple programming efforts to encourage individual behavior change," Meyers says. "Find out what your participants are interested in. Take them on a grocery store tour to shop for healthy food. Create an 8-week weight-loss challenge or competition. Be creative and put multiple programs in place to help your participants lose weight and be successful."
Annals of Internal Medicine.
International Journal of Epidemiology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention