With fully a third of American adults now officially labeled obese, employers are making renewed efforts to combat its cost on their bottom line. Some are becoming quite innovative as they reach out to those with weight-control issues.
Among the emerging strategies identified by research by the Northeast Business Group on Health is “gamification,” which draws upon such popular television shows as “The Biggest Loser” to introduce friendly competition into corporate wellness programs. Technology is being deployed in myriad ways to engage obese employees in wellness programs and offer them support.
Sprint has successfully engaged employees in a 12-week “biggest loser” challenge involving teams of employees across the nation who competed to see which team could lose the most weight. The results were impressive: Average individual weight loss was 8.4 pounds, and collectively, the teams shed 20 tons.
Other large employers are rethinking their on-the-job food choices and using new strategies to reinvigorate earlier attempts to get obese workers to make better eating, drinking and exercise decisions.
The results being reported by employers like Sprint are catching the attention of more large employers, the business group reports, after more conventional methods have failed to deliver slimmer, healthier workers.
Technology is assuming an ever greater role in existing and emerging weight-loss programs. The use of mobile phone apps are being increasingly used to remind obese workers to take (or not take) certain actions designed to help them shed pounds.
“Commonly used apps provide self-monitoring tools that track users’ meals and exercise throughout the day to encourage healthy choices through awareness. According to current data, cell phone and telehealth technology, which promote self-monitoring, can help in weight reduction, and studies have shown technology can improve a user’s adherence to a weight loss program, resulting in greater weight loss than would otherwise occur. Tele-health technology includes devices like home-based digital scales, which are linked to patient portals, and virtual coaching,” the study reported.
The key to successful weight-loss programs seems to be the offering of rewards and incentives rather than punishing those who don't meet objectives set for them, the business group's report said. Punitive measures discourage participation, lead mostly to short-term results that don't last, and decrease employee morale.
Among the general characteristics of successful programs offered by the study:
- Support from top executives in making wellness an organizational priority;
- Incentives and discounts to increase employee participation;
- Branding and marketing efforts to build trust and attract employee participation;
- ROI data to build a compelling business case for investments in weight control and wellness efforts;
- Establishing success measures that include health outcomes, and employee engagement and satisfaction.
The complete report, “Weight Control and the Workplace” can be found here.