Why Where You Work May Play a Role in Maintaining a Healthy Weight

New research reveals how employers can make corporate wellness programs more effective

Perhaps because they typically move more throughout the day, employees like nurses, personal trainers or chefs, may have an occupational advantage when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and overall good health.

But even if you work in an office setting and sit at a desk for most of the day, if you’re employer offers a work-based wellness program, then it’s possible that your job could play a role in helping you to maintain good health.

A recent study from the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences found that by offering healthier food options and opportunities for physical activity, workplace wellness programs may have the ability to help people lose weight, especially if the initiative is designed with suggestions and feedback from employees.

According to Science Daily, to conduct the study scientists worked with a Rochester-based company with campuses throughout the Northeastern U.S. With 10 different sites randomized into two groups—an intervention group and a non-intervention group, the study analyzed 3,799 individuals over the course of two years.

For the intervention group, the scientists worked with the company’s management to introduce a wellness program that placed an emphasis on both healthy eating and exercise.

To measure the value of the program, the scientists recorded the body mass index (BMI) of each participant at the beginning and end of the two-year study.

The results revealed that the number of overweight or obese (by BMI standards) employees in the non-intervention (or control) group increased by about five percent, while the number of overweight or obese employees in the intervention group decreased by four percent.  

“This study suggests that worksite environmental interventions might be promising strategies for weight control at the population level," Diana Fernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Rochester Department of Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study told Science Daily.

The study’s authors made a point to emphasize employee involvement in the development and implementation of the wellness program. They felt that this aspect played an important role in motivating more employees to participate.

“This study shows in particular that when employees are empowered to help shape wellness programs, these programs appear to result in meaningful improvements in health."

While this particular study helped to shine a light on how employers can make corporate wellness programs more effective, it certainly does not demonstrate that individuals will be healthier just because their workplace offers a wellness program.

In fact, a recent survey conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthaways Well-Being Index found that only 24 percent of employees who have a wellness program available to them participate, and only 12 percent “strongly agreed” that their overall well-being was higher as a result of their employer's efforts.

The important points that those results demonstrated: wellness programs are likely most effective when components are “built into the fabric of the organization” and employees in leadership roles serve as key players because “engaged employees are 28 percent more likely to participate in a wellness program.” 

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