For employees who are stressed at work or struggle to make a healthy dinner for their family, a new study finds that a flexible workplace program can help address these concerns and lead to weight loss, adding almost half an hour of weekly physical activity, and improving many other risk factors.
The study focused on employees at risk for type 2 diabetes (86 million US adults are at risk). Lowering risk for type 2 diabetes also means reduced risk for some cancers, including colon, breast (postmenopausal), pancreas and endometrium. Type 2 diabetes increases risk of some cancers, and both diseases share several risk factors such as obesity, elevated insulin levels, and physical inactivity.
The study, published last week in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found significant improvement in weight, waist size, insulin levels and physical activity in participants. About 90 employees participated by attending group classes or watching a DVD and having a weekly phone call with the lifestyle coach, or a combination of those.
Participants learned skills to help them eat better, exercise more and manage stress. They learned how to count calories and fat grams to reach their individual goal and practiced replacing high calorie foods with lower calorie choices.
One session focused on how to make being active a way of life, such as sneaking in activity while watching TV or walking around the outside of a store before going inside. People learned strategies to deal with stress – including any stress that may come from being part of the study. For example, if your family doesn’t like the lower fat or healthier foods, talk with them about the importance of losing weight for your health, and come up with options that work for the whole family.
Study researchers randomly assigned two-thirds of the participants to start the program immediately. At six months, those in the group first starting the program lost more weight and improved their blood pressure, BMI and waist circumference significantly more than the wait-listed group that had not yet started.
After 18 months from when they started the program, participants had lost an average of almost 9 pounds and decreased their waist by about 1.5 inches. They also upped their physical activity by 25 minutes per week, according to their self reports.
The researchers used the US Diabetes Prevention Program Curriculum, an evidence-based lifestyle change program from the CDC that includes nutrition and physical activity information as well as behavior change education.
Dr. M. Kaye Kramer, a researcher at the University of Pittsburg and lead author of the paper, believes the success of this program is due to using an evidence-based curriculum that includes teaching people skills for long term behavior change. She also points to the importance of the self-monitoring pieces and the availability of a lifestyle coach to provide support and accountability to employees.
Another important factor, she added, was allowing participants to choose whether they wanted instruction in person or via DVD. It allowed participants to choose what they thought would work best for them and “having different delivery modes allows for more flexibility in achieving the dose of the intervention.”
One strength of this study, write the authors, is that it included almost 50% men, unusual in many of these types of studies. A limitation is that those who took part may have included mostly employees motivated to improve their health.
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This study was funded by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.