Southeast Missouri State University
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Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552



Study shows worksite incentive program leads to weight loss, drop in obesity levels

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., June 13, 2003 -- A successful effort to reward employees for losing weight could become a model for other companies concerned about employee health, according to a team of researchers from Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation.

The results of the study, which were presented recently at the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) 50th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, may also present a new approach for combating obesity levels that have risen to epidemic proportions.

The study documented a successful weight loss intervention initiated at Major Custom Cable, a small manufacturing firm in Jackson, Mo. For 12 weeks, participants in the "Waist Away" program divided into teams of two to four co-workers. Participants attended four 30-minute seminars that focused on the importance of physical activity and proper diet. The team that had lost the greatest percentage of body weight at the end of the 12-week time period was awarded a $200 prize, much of the money coming from the participants themselves in the form of a $5 registration fee.

On average, the 28 participants in the program lost eight pounds. Two employees had altered their body mass index (BMI) enough that they were no longer considered obese.

"This study could have practical ramifications for employers who are conscious of the health of their workers," says researcher Dr. Jeremy Barnes, Southeast assistant professor of health, human performance and recreation. "When companies realize how employees will respond to incentives to lose weight, a healthier workforce will result, along with the potential for lower health care costs."

The Southeast researchers, whose project was reported on last week by the Los Angeles Times, note the success achieved with even such a modest monetary incentive offered ($200). A recent industry survey indicates that the average per-employee cost to employers for health care may reach $11,000 by 2005, so researchers indicate that this incentive approach could be adopted as a viable way to promote better health, potentially lowering costs. With more than 31 percent of the population considered obese, and therefore at risk for a myriad of obesity-related diseases, the potential benefits of such a weight loss program are of great importance to public health.

Barnes says the Waist Away program was part of a larger Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction program spearheaded by the Southeast Missouri Business Group on Health.


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