Maintain weight loss in wellness programs

There's good news! The employees who signed up for a new weight loss program lost an average of 10 pounds each after three months. Six months later, though, most of them re-gain the weight. Does this discouraging cycle sound familiar?

The most likely reason for this disappointing result is dietary change without lifestyle change, according to Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, safety/nurse manager at Dalton, GA-based Shaw Industries. "This is the largest potential pitfall which leads to short-term gains," she says. "Weight loss is only successful if it is considered a lifestyle change."

The problem is that employees are taking a short-term approach. "When we decide to diet, most often it includes only modifying our food intake until we reach a short-term weight loss goal," says Dayvault. "There is no plan for how to sustain weight loss over the long term."

A better approach is to teach employees to adopt healthy eating behaviors as a way of life. Dayvault says that this can be done by connecting them with nutritionists, health or fitness coaches, and encouraging participation in group activities which support sustained weight loss.

Evaluate success

When measuring the success of weight loss programs, you'll want to be able to prove that money was saved. "Capitalize on costs savings, the impact of wellness programs on worker health, and potential reversal of negative health outcomes," says Dayvault. "By doing this, health and wellness programs that focus on obesity can be justified, as well as continued support for future programs." Dayvault says that to get long-term gains, though, you'll need to consider these three areas:

• Primary challenges.

This means giving employees the message that they are ultimately responsible for their own personal health. "Help them to understand that it is their responsibility to make the necessary changes to obtain weight loss and improved health," says Dayvault. "As a nurse, I have always given employees or patients the message that only they can change how they approach a healthy lifestyle. Keep reinforcing the message over and over. You do impact people, typically only one at a time."

• Secondary challenges.

These involve getting employers to understand that by providing successful weight loss programs, the bottom line can be significantly impacted. This occurs through decreased health care costs and decreased absenteeism, including absences related to the Family and Medical Leave Act and decreased disability. "These cost savings occur through reduction and eradication of serious health conditions and related co-morbidities," says Dayvault. She recommends pulling this data:

— Reduction in absenteeism for obesity-related co-morbid conditions;

— Annual health care costs, showing decreased payout for obesity-related disease processes;

— Statistics on increased productivity in the workplace.

• Tertiary challenges.

You'll need to provide a work environment which fosters weight loss. That could take the form of onsite wellness programs, healthy foods which are as affordable as other options in onsite cafeterias, providing healthy options in vending machines, and educational opportunities provided onsite aimed at weight reduction.

To get long-term followup, Dayvault says to "Provide adequate ongoing resources for employees. Provide monetary incentives to employees as they reach specific goals. If it is not possible to provide onsite facilities for physical activities, it is important to provide affordable access to outside facilities."


For more information on achieving long-term gains with wellness, contact:

• Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, Safety/Nurse Manager, Shaw Industries, Dalton, GA. Phone: (704) 588-1272, ext. 2231. Fax: (704) 504-2351. E-mail: