Employee Weight Loss – Numbers You CAN Believe!

In what at first appeared likely to go down as a milestone in the history of health and medicine — right up there perhaps with Jonas Salk (polio vaccine) and James Lind (citrus for scurvy) — a study published this month in the journal “Obesity” reported on not just one but two successful employee weight-loss strategies!

One, a daily Internet-based program tied to a small financial incentive and the other, a less intensive, quarterly program “both led to weight loss and reductions in body mass index,” according to the researchers.

I waited with bated breath to read the numbers. And, what were the “successes” reported by the researchers in these two, 12-month-long interventions?

In the more intensive Internet program, employees lost on average — wait for it — 2.27 pounds (about 1/3 of one BMI unit).

In the less intensive quarterly program, employees lost on average 1.3 pounds (about 1/5 of one BMI unit).

I looked carefully to see if I had missed something — or if this was actually published by The Onion, or if it was April 1 — but nope, that was it.

I do have to appreciate the authors’ (not in the least) self-serving conclusions however:

“Future research from this trial should investigate whether these intervention effects remain consistent at the end of the 12-month interventions as well as explore potential maintenance effects and incorporate the costs associated with the programs to help determine the most cost-effective intervention.”

Never mind that these weight losses don’t come anywhere near the amount that health officials deem to be of any practical significance.

Never mind that a 1/5 to 1/3 change in one BMI unit would not move individuals from the weight category they were already in.

Never mind that a woman can easily gain and lose more than twice that amount of weight as a result of her period.

Never mind the difficulty of imagining how a 12-month program resulting in a 1- or 2-pound weight loss could possibly be considered cost-effective.


Never mind that more than 30 years of research consistently, and without exception, demonstrates that most people losing weight in these programs gain it back after the program is over.

Is there an upside to this seemingly wasted research?

Actually there is. The good news is that unlike most other weight-loss interventions, this one will not likely be responsible for much weight cycling. Come on folks; how many more of these kinds of studies do we really need?

For information on what to do instead when it comes to weight at the workplace, see Part 1 of our white paper of the same name.

Jon Robison, PhD, MS, MAJon is an accomplished speaker, teacher, writer and consultant. He has spent his career advocating that health promotion shift away from its traditional, biomedical, control-oriented focus, with a particular interest in why people do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do. Jon has authored numerous articles and book chapters and is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences. He is also co-author of the book, “The Spirit & Science of Holistic Health — More than Broccoli, Jogging and Bottled Water, More than Yoga, Herbs and Meditation.” This work formed the foundation for one of the first truly holistic employee wellness programs — Kailo. Kailo won awards in both Canada and The United States, and the creators lovingly claim Jon as its father. Contact Jon at: jon@salveopartners.com or jonrobison.net.

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